6 December 2017

Europe’s transport sector is making only mixed progress in meeting its environment, health and climate policy targets, according to the latest European Environment Agency (EEA) assessment which tracks the short and long-term environmental performance of this key economic sector across the European Union.

The EEA Briefing “Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM)” gives the annual progress assessment based on a series of indicators which track the progress of the transport sector in meeting related policy targets and objectives. Issues covered in the briefing include emissions, air pollution, noise and renewable energy and the impact of transport on ecosystems and biodiversity. A follow-up TERM report focusing on the environmental impacts arising from aviation and shipping will be published next month.

Evolution of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU-28 from 1990 to 2016. Source: EEA. Click to enlarge.

Among the key findings, provisional data shows that in 2016, greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector (including international aviation but excluding maritime shipping) across the EU-28 were 25% higher than in 1990, confirming an upward trend in emissions since 2014.

This increase comes despite past improvements in the efficiency of transport and is broadly in line with increases in the level of economic activity as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), as well as increases in demand for both freight and passenger transport. The transport sector remains the only major European economic sector in which GHG emissions have increased, compared with 1990 levels.

The average CO2 emissions of new passenger vans and cars in 2016 were below the respective target paths for 2020 and 2021, although considerable reductions still need to be made in the coming years for manufacturers to meet future targets.

  • Since monitoring began in 2010, the annual average specific emissions from newly registered passenger cars has decreased by almost 15% as of 2015. The 2015 target of 130 g CO2/km was already met in 2013, 2 years before the deadline. In 2016, average emissions decreased by 1.5 g CO2/km, the smallest annual decrease since 2006. Monitoring of CO2 emissions from new vans started in 2012. Since then, average specific emissions have decreased by 6.6%. In 2016, average emissions decreased by a further 4.7 g CO2/km, a 9.2% decrease from 2012 levels.
  • Even though emissions from newly registered passenger cars and vans are well below the target path, they will need to further decrease by almost 20% for new passenger cars and by more than 11% for vans in order to meet the targets of 95 g CO2/km by 2021 and 147 g CO2/km by 2020, respectively.

While sales of new diesel passenger cars have decreased in recent years, the share of diesel used in road transport (including for freight transport by heavy-duty vehicles) has continued to rise, amounting to more than 66% of total fuel sales in road transport in 2015, compared with 51% in 2000.

Oil consumption by the transport sector will need to fall by more than two-thirds to meet the objective of reducing consumption by 70% by 2050 compared with 2008 levels.

The share of renewable energy in transport in the EU rose from 6.7% in 2015 to 7.1% in 2016, lower than the 10% target set for 2020. Three Member States (Austria, Finland and Sweden) have already reached the 10 % goal.

Transport is the main source of environmental noise in Europe and contributes to pressure on ecosystem and biodiversity habitats. It also continues to be a significant source of harmful air pollution, especially through emissions of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.

Air pollution. Between 2000 and 2015 the transport sector significantly reduced emissions of certain air pollutants: sulfur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (nox) and particulate matter (PM). With the exception of international aviation, all modes of transport contributed to the decrease.

Transport is responsible for more than half of all NOx emissions and contributes significantly to the total emissions of the other pollutants. Road transport, in particular, continues to make a significant contribution to emissions of all the main air pollutants (with the exception of SOx). Some 39% of NOx emissions arise from road transport. However, the contribution of the road transport sector to harmful NO2 concentrations, especially in urban areas, is considerably higher, because emissions occur close to the ground and are distributed over densely populated areas.

While emissions from road transport are mostly exhaust emissions arising from fuel combustion, non-exhaust emissions contribute to both non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) (from fuel evaporation) and primary particulate matter (PM) (from tire- and brake-wear, and road abrasion). Although emissions of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from road transport have declined by 50% since 2000, the relative importance of non-exhaust emissions has increased, because the introduction of vehicle particulate abatement technologies has reduced exhaust emissions.

As land-based emissions from transport sources decrease, there is an increased focus on coastal maritime emissions which contribute to background air pollution across Europe.