Emissions Reductions in the Transportation Sector in the EU

The European Union accounted for 22% of overall transportation sector emissions, placing it second behind the United States which has a 29% share (Ibid). Transport emissions reductions are a challenge in Europe, as they have been a proven leader in emissions reduction strategies across the board. Ridership on public transportation is high, both in the poor and rich countries of the region. Additionally, more Europeans live within biking and walking distance of work, which keeps cities less congested. European emissions standards have been replicated around the world, and they continue to be the standard setter in the transportation space.

This regional paper will use the same Avoid, Shift, and Improve framework as outlined in the transportation sector paper, and explore the opportunities for reduction accordingly. Essentially, this breaks up transport mitigation strategies into ones that avoid transportation whenever possible, shift passengers from highly carbon-intensive to less intensive methods, and improve the energy efficiency of carbon-intensive transportation methods when they cannot be avoided. In Europe, as in other regions, improve strategies form the bulk of the mitigation potential, but avoid and shift strategies are essential to realizing the 2DS scenario.


The EU has many advantages over other developed regions of the world in the avoid space. One of the major reasons for this is the general compact layout of most of Europe’s major cities. This is not mainly due to recent efforts, but is actually a general legacy of Europe’s pre-automobile development. This makes zero carbon transportation methods like walking and bicycling practical for a much greater percentage of commuters in many European cities. By comparison, New York City, which is the densest major metropolitan area in America, wouldn’t even break the top thirty list for density in Europe (United States Census Bureau, 2000). Additionally, Europe’s high internet penetration allows for the implementation of Skype conferencing and other remote work possibilities.


One of the greatest challenges of the shift strategy in the EU is the already great numbers of riders, both within cities and between them. EU rail potential is saturated to the point where there would need to be a great expansion of capacity. The European Union, on the other hand, already possesses an extensive passenger rail system that connects almost every city. Since this infrastructure is present, and is already widely utilized, there is much less space for gains to be made by shifting to rail. By comparison, Americans drive for 85 percent of their daily trips, while Europeans opted for cars only 50-65 percent of the time. This means that

In addition to physical infrastructure investments, the EU has also outperformed the United States in marketing and promotion of its public transportation options. While not as high as in the US, personal passenger vehicle usage remains high and contributes significantly to carbon emissions and congestion. As the European Union reaches a saturation point in terms of urban and highway congestion, public awareness campaigns regarding the benefits of reducing personal passenger transport in dirty-combustion LDVs increased, and enacted a long-term impact on transportation and urban planning (US DOT, 2014).


The EU has been a proven leader in Energy Efficiency standards in all road vehicles, and this is exemplified by existing legislation. The Euro V emissions standards went into effect in 2009 and will be superseded by Euro VI standards in 2014. These standards do not limit CO2 emissions directly, but other exhaust emissions such as CO and particulate matter (Regulation (EC) No 582/2011). By reducing these other harmful vehicle emissions local air quality is improved, and the higher efficiency of the vehicles engineered to meet these standards in turn reduces the CO2 emissions of European LDVs. Euro and CAFE equivalent standards are increasingly being adopted in developing countries, due to the benefits for local air quality, which reduces the CO2 emissions of LDVs, MDVs, and HDVs globally.

In addition to emissions standards for internal combustion vehicles, the EU is proving to be a valuable lab for testing the viability of alternative fuel options. Many of these new technologies are front-heavy in terms of infrastructure investment. Despite these high upfront costs, the EU is continuing to push forward with low carbon infrastructure investment. Since the European Union is already saturated with diverse low carbon transport options and high speed linkages between cities, increasing the emphasis on providing fiscal incentives for Electric Vehicle infrastructure could increase demand for EV and hybrid vehicles in EU member states where market penetration has not reached its full potential.

In addition, the EU has been a leader in pushing for increased air and sea energy efficiency. Aviation emissions have been an ongoing bone of contention between the EU and many of its major trading partners. As part of its climate action plan, the European Union advocates a monitoring, results, and verification (MRV) approach to reporting emissions from maritime bunker fuels and also has an emissions trading system (ETS) in place to hold state actors accountable for their GHG emissions over EU airspace, though the ETS system is currently stalled (EU Climate Action Plan, 2014). These efforts have been met with considerable pushback from developed countries like the U.S. and emerging economies like China, who have challenged the ETS system under international law.

Aviation sector regulation has proven to be a controversial issue both within the EU and without. While the EU has advocated for a carbon tax on all flights originating or heading to EU airspace, American and Chinese airlines and governments have vehemently opposed this plan. This has led EU lawmakers to propose a compromise, in which EU airlines will only be taxed during their stay in EU airspace. This compromise is intended to stay in place until 2017, as the EU hopes that there will be a global air emissions regime in place by this time (BBC, 2014).



The barriers to avoid technologies are significantly less in the EU as compared to the US, as congestion and distance-based fees are more common and have been used extensively to shape behavior. Additionally, the EU has been a leader in using biofuels in concrete mixes, which allow for less-carbon intensive transportation infrastructure investment. This will be discussed in greater detail in the Energy Efficiency section. In general, there are few barriers to avoid strategies in Europe, but unfortunately this section does not contribute greatly to the overall mitigation potential of the transportation space.


The EU’s major challenge in implementing shift strategies is that it is already doing a a great job of encouraging low-carbon intensive methods like subways, light rail, and BRT systems. Most countries subsidize public transportation ridership, which leads to high usage both within and between major metropolitan areas. The major challenge will be market saturation, as crowdedness and non-availability of tickets may cause some to turn to personal passenger vehicles for a greater share of their passenger kilometers.


While the rich nations of western Europe are very receptive to increasingly stringent emissions standards, there is much greater opposition to these standards in the eastern flank of the EU. While more energy efficient personal passenger vehicles will save drivers money on fuel in the long run, the high upfront cost of hybrid and electric vehicles renders them unaffordable to many EU citizens. Additionally, the high cost of alternative fuel infrastructure will prove to be a challenge, as EV charging stations will need to be installed both in city centers and between cities.

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