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Page Last modified 15 Mar 2023
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Transport plays a vital role in society and the economy. Our quality of life depends on an efficient and accessible transport system. At the same time, transport is a key source of environmental pressures in the European Union (EU) and contributes to climate change, air pollution and noise. It also takes up large strips of land and contributes to urban sprawl, the fragmentation of habitats and the sealing of surfaces.

Transport consumes one third of all final energy in the EU. The bulk of this energy comes from oil. This means that transport is responsible for a large share of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions and a major contributor to climate change. While most other economic sectors, such as power production and industry, have reduced their emissions since 1990, those from transport have risen. They now account for more than one quarter of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions. A reversal of this trend is currently not in sight. That makes the transport sector a major obstacle to realising the EU’s climate protection goals. Cars, vans, trucks and buses produce more than 70 % of the overall greenhouse gas emissions from transport. The remainder comes mainly from shipping and aviation.

Transport also continues to be a significant source of air pollution, especially in cities. Air pollutants, such as particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), harm human health and the environment. Although air pollution from transport has decreased in the last decade because of the introduction of fuel quality standards, the Euro vehicle emission standards and the use of cleaner technologies, air pollutant concentrations are still too high.

Noise pollution is another major environmental health problem linked to transport. Road traffic is the most widespread source of noise, with more than 100 million people affected by harmful levels in the EEA’s member countries. Air traffic and railways are also major noise sources.

Furthermore, transport infrastructure has a serious impact on the landscape because it divides natural areas into small patches with serious consequences for animals and plants.

EU policies

Reducing the adverse effects of transport is an important EU policy goal. The main strands of activity are shifting transport to the least polluting and most efficient modes, deploying more sustainable transport technology, fuels and infrastructure, and ensuring that transport prices fully reflect adverse environment and health impacts.

EU strategy documents focus on decarbonising transport. The European Commission’s 2018 strategyA Clean Planet for all: A European strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy’ seeks to chart the course for a transition towards ‘net-zero’ greenhouse gas emissions across the EU by 2050. For transport, it underlines the need for a system-based approach, stresses the importance of switching to low-carbon modes and zero-emission vehicles, underlines the central role of electrification and renewable energy sources, and pushes for operational efficiency improvements. It also calls for better urban planning and for realising the full benefits of public transportation. Similarly, from 2016, the European Strategy for low-emission mobility has identified a more efficient transport system, the rapid deployment of low-emission fuels and the transition towards low- and zero-emission vehicles as priority areas for action.  

In addition, EU legislation directly addresses the environment and health impacts of transport by setting binding rules. These include emission limits for cars, vans, trucks and buses, specific requirements for transport fuels, and noise maps and noise management action plans for major transport infrastructure, such as airports.

EEA activities

The EEA collects and publishes data on all new cars and vans registered in Europe, in accordance with EU Regulations (EC) No 443/2009 and (EU) No 510/2011. These data are required to evaluate the efficiency of the new vehicle fleet and include information on CO2 emissions and vehicle weight. In future, data collection will be extended to trucks and buses. The EEA also collects national inventory data for greenhouse gases and air pollutants from its member countries, which provide important insight into the contribution of transport to climate change and air pollution in Europe. Furthermore, the EEA manages the reporting process under the Fuel Quality Directive 98/70/EC, which imposes requirements on fuel suppliers to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the fuel supplied for road transport.

Another major EEA activity is the Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM). Through this mechanism, the EEA tracks the environmental performance of transport in Europe. TERM relies on a set of indicators used for measuring progress towards meeting transport-related policy targets. The EEA also publishes an annual report on current developments in the transport area that focuses on a different topic every year. Investigating the contribution of transport to noise pollution is also among the EEA’s tasks.


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