Most polluting modes of transportationRoad vehicles are by far the most polluting mode of transportation, accounting for more than 70 percent of EU transportation greenhouse gas emissions. In 2018, road transportation emissions totaled 786 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent – a 27 percent increase from 1990. Of this total, passenger cars represented 60 percent, with emissions climbing from 381.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 1990 to 469 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. During this same period, the number of passenger cars per 1,000 inhabitants in the EU has increased from 342 to 524. Heavy-duty trucks and buses are the second-largest source of road vehicle emissions, followed by light-duty trucks.
Despite improvements to fuel efficiency in recent years, the increase in air traffic has caused aviation emissions to grow at a rapid pace, increasing by 30 percent between 2013 and 2019. Civil aviation in the EU now produces roughly 13 percent of transportation emissions, and 3.5 percent of total EU carbon dioxide emissions and is one of the fastest-growing sources of emissions.
EU targets transportation emissions reductionsEmission reductions from transportation – especially road transportation - are key for the EU to achieve its target of net zero emissions by 2050. Of all modes of transportation, it is expected that road vehicle emissions will decrease the fastest as alternative fuels and electric vehicles are adopted on a wider scale. Currently, the average new passenger car sold in Europe emits 122 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer, with a 2020/2021 target of grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer.
Rail transportation is also seen as key to decarbonizing the transportation sector. As of one of the least polluting modes of transport, there have been calls for a vastly improved rail network across Europe. This would include more overnight train services, as well as high-speed trains connecting member states as an alternative to air travel. In a bid to mitigate aviation emissions, the French government imposed a ban in April 2021 on certain short-haul domestic flights wherever rail alternatives that can provide the same journey in two and a half hours are available.