Original publication: March 2016
Author: Marc Thomas, Research Administrator
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2FFMWcE

Transport currently contributes to roughly a quarter of the total EU man-made greenhouse gas emissions. This share is growing since transport is the only EU sector where the GHG emissions have risen since 1990.

EU-28 total GHG emissions, 1990-2013, in million tCO2-eq and EU-28 transport GHG emissions, 1990-2013, in million tCO2-eq

Road emits much more GHGs than other modes, but the share of long distance air and waterborne transport is growing strongly. In 2013, planes and vessels departing from the Member States accounted for 23.5% of EU transport GHG emissions and 5.7% of EU total GHG emissions. In 1990, these figures were 18.5% and 2.9% respectively.

EU-28 transport GHG emissions per mode, 1990-2013, in million tCO2-eq4:

  • Article 2 of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC – 196 contracting parties including the EU) set the objective of “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner”.
  • The 1997 Kyoto Protocol (192 contracting parties including the EU5) is the primary tool for the implementation of the UNFCCC. During the first commitment period (2008-2012), 37 industrialized countries, including the EU- 15, committed to reducing their GHG emissions by at least 5% compared with 1990 levels. Over the second commitment period7 (2013-2020), the parties have committed to reduce their emissions by at least 18% against 1990 levels.
  • The 2015 Paris Agreement (195 contracting parties including the EU) will succeed the Kyoto Protocol from 2021. The Agreement aims at “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”. To achieve this (long term) goal the contracting parties commit to implementing “self-determined” national action plans to reduce emissions (the so-called “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions”, or INDCs). These INDCs are made public by the UNFCCC. They shall be upgraded every five years to more ambitious targets.

It is important to note that according to the accounting rules under the Kyoto Protocol, as laid down by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, emissions from international aviation and from international waterborne transport (i.e. from planes and vessels departing from the contracting states) are not covered by the national reduction commitments.
These emissions “are to be excluded from national totals and are to be reported separately”. (Article 2.2 of the Kyoto Protocol leaves the reduction of these emissions to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), respectively.)


The Intended Nationally Determined Contribution of the EU and its Member States set the objective of “an at least 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990”. This objective shall be met with no contribution of international market based mechanisms.

EU successive commitments/objectives on GHG emissions reduction

Link to the full briefing: http://bit.ly/573-433

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