Original publication: September 2017
Authors: CE Delft: Anco Hoen, Anouk van Grinsven, Bettina Kampman, Jasper Faber, Huib van Essen
TEPR: Ian Skinner
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2AjTLBF


To meet medium and long-term climate targets requires robust decarbonisation of the transport system. The overarching long-term EU target for the transport sector is set  out in the 2011 Transport White Paper (EC, 2011b). It was set at 60% carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reduction in 2050 compared to 1990 levels.


Decarbonisation of European transport

Ecelop / Shuterstock.com

This target has its origin in the long-term worldwide goal to limit global warming in this century to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Recently, a more ambitious  target was adopted through the Paris Agreement in response to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Paris Agreement aims to strengthen the global response to climate change by “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”. Clearly, a 1.5°C target is substantially more ambitious than a 2°C target, which will have implications for all sectors, including transport.

Considering the existing medium and long-term GHG reduction targets and the recently stepped up ambition, the question arises how these targets are to be met and what implications they have for EU transport policies. This paper describes the effectiveness of current and future climate policies for transport and discusses the policy action needed at EU level for meeting the commitments made in Paris.

Aim of this study

The aim of the present study is twofold:

  • To assess the impacts of the different (existing or developing) strategies currently implemented in the EU to reduce GHG emissions and those of the European Commission’s 2016 Low Emission Mobility Strategy.
  • To describe how decarbonisation of transport in the EU can be achieved.

This study is designed to serve as a background report providing input for the follow-up policy debate on the aforementioned Commission’s Low Emission Mobility Strategy and related initiatives. The focus is on the design of the EU’s policy strategy towards 2030. However, since the period after 2030 is also crucial for meeting long-term climate goals, considerations for the period until the year 2050 are also included.

Main findings

While the EU’s GHG emissions have been declining since 1990, GHG emissions from transport have increased. In the immediate aftermath of the economic crisis, transport GHG emissions and demand for transport in the EU declined, but both have now begun to increase again. GHG emissions from international shipping increased even more between 1990 and 2014, while those from international aviation nearly doubled over the same period.

This increase occurred despite EU policy efforts to limit transport GHG emission. The EU policies that had the largest impact on decarbonisation were CO2 standards for passenger cars and policies aimed at increasing the share of renewable energy sources in transport (RES-T). However, in both cases, real-world emission reductions have been far smaller than the intended reduction. The growing discrepancy between real-world CO2 emissions and those measured in the ‘New European Driving Cycle’ (NEDC) test cycle has had an important impact on the effectiveness of CO2 standards for cars and vans. The use of biofuels might even have led to a net increase in CO2 emissions if indirect emissions are taken into account. The effectiveness of EU modal shift policies has not been properly assessed to date, but may very well have been limited. The policy impact on GHG emissions from aviation and maritime shipping has so far been limited.

Very significant GHG reductions are still necessary in the transport sector to meet the longerterm climate agreements. The urgency of swift policy action has increased with the Paris Agreement.

Although the GHG reduction target for 2020 of 20% compared to 1990 levels looks likely to be met, further policy action is needed to meet the proposed 2030 target of 40% compared to 1990 levels. Limiting warming to the proposed 1.5°C requires net zero emissions globally at some point between 2040 and 2060.

A step change in GHG emissions reductions will be needed to meet the 60% GHG reduction target for transport in 2050. This becomes especially clear when it is realised that without further policy action, transport GHG emissions are expected to be 15% above 1990 levels by 2050. Moreover, the 2050 target is based on a maximum temperature increase of 2°C, not 1.5°C. In 2014 transport GHG emissions were 20.1% above 1990 levels, implying they will need to fall by 67 % by 2050 in order to meet the Transport White Paper target (EEA, 2016d) and even significantly more to meet the commitments made in the Paris Agreement.

A wide range of measures are available to reduce the future CO2 emissions of the transport sector. The largest potential comes from technological options to improve the energy efficiency of vehicles, ships and planes. The second largest potential comes from renewable fuels and energy carriers for the different transport modes. A more limited impact may be expected from measures that improve the efficiency of the transport system itself (i.e. measures that impact on transport demand).

Current technologies are either insufficient or need further development to meet the future GHG reduction targets. Of particular importance are:

  • Cost reductions for battery electric vehicles and fuel-cell vehicles.
  • Realisation of charging and/or fuelling infrastructure for electric and fuel-cell vehicles, including development of (smart) integration of these vehicles in terms of grid capacity and stability, flexible demand and energy storage.
  • Technologies for the production of large-scale, affordable, low-carbon and renewable fuels from biomass, wind and solar power, in particular for transport modes or applications for which electrification is unlikely to be a viable option (e.g. aviation, shipping and possibly heavy-duty vehicles). In particular, the development of powerto- gas and power-to-liquid should be developed.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/601-989

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Decarbonisation of European transport – Research4Committees · October 30, 2017 at 12:03 pm

[…] for TRAN Committee on Decarbonisation in the EU (2017) This study shows that very significant greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reductions are still […]

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