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Transportation emissions in the European Union - Statistics & Facts

The European Union’s transportation sector is responsible for releasing huge amounts of emissions into the atmosphere each year. While technological improvements and regulations have reduced air pollutant emissions within the sector, GHG emissions have increased. Transportation is now the second-largest source of emissions in the EU, with carbon dioxide making up the vast majority of GHG emissions from this sector.

COVID-19 causes EU transportation emissions to plunge

Domestic transportation-related GHG emissions plummeted 25 percent in 2020, to an estimated 729 MtCO2e. This dramatic decrease was a result of the strict lockdowns and travel bans brought on by the outbreak of COVID-19. Every EU member state experienced emission reductions that year, though they varied by country. Italy, which was the first EU member to impose COVID-19-related restrictions, saw transportation emissions plunge 16 percent to 81.24 MtCO2e. Germany, the largest contributor to EU transportation emissions, also experienced significant reductions in 2020, at roughly 10 percent. Meanwhile, emissions in other EU countries such as Poland and Slovakia fell by less than 10 percent.

Road transportation is a major polluter

Road transportation is by far the largest source of transportation emissions in the EU, with passenger cars the biggest single contributor ̶ emitting nearly 500 MtCO2 each year. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the sheer number of cars on the road. The second-largest emitters are heavy-duty vehicles, which are responsible for about a quarter of emissions from road transportation. Lorries, buses, and coaches emit roughly 200 MtCO2 each year, which demonstrates how polluting these vehicles are, given the fact that there are far fewer of them on the road than passenger cars. Since 1990, emissions from both passenger cars and HGVs have increased by more than 20 percent.

Decarbonizing the transportation sector

In 2021, the EU adopted the European Climate Law which set out the target of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To achieve this goal, emission reductions from the transportation sector will be key. A variety of proposals have been put forward, including a ban on carbon-emitting cars from 2035, and a shift towards cleaner, alternative fuels. New regulations also propose ending the tax exemption for jet fuel, and gradually replacing it with sustainable air fuel (SAF). As one of the least polluting modes of transportation, there have also been calls for a vastly improved rail network across Europe.

Interesting statistics

In the following 5 chapters, you will quickly find the 28 most important statistics relating to "Transportation emissions in the EU".


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