Europe’s Transport Sector: A Looming Threat to Climate Goals – NGO

In an insightful report by Transport & Environment (T&E), the European transport sector is projected to contribute to nearly half of the continent’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030, revealing a stark contrast to the overall economic trend of declining emissions. The analysis, titled “State of European Transport,” establishes that despite a reduction in transport emissions since their zenith in 2007, the rate of decarbonisation within this sector lags significantly behind other economic areas—threefold, to be precise.

The present trajectory indicates that transport’s share of GHG emissions could escalate to 44% by the onset of the next decade, a substantial increase from the current 29%. The sector’s emissions surpass the 1000 MtCO2e mark, an amount equivalent to the combined emissions of Germany and the Netherlands. Without the implementation of additional measures, reaching the net zero target by 2050 remains an elusive goal for Europe.

William Todts, Executive Director of T&E, succinctly summarises the situation: “Transport emissions in Europe have peaked, which is commendable. However, the rate at which other sectors are decarbonising places transport as the primary concern in Europe’s climate mitigation strategy. An immediate and robust response to decarbonise transport is imperative.”

A critical examination reveals that the majority of transport emissions stem from petrol and diesel cars, which account for over 40%. The entrenched reliance on automobiles has been facilitated by the expansion of motorways and an increasing vehicle fleet since the 1990s. Only recently has there been a discernible decline in average car emissions, attributed to the introduction of electric vehicles into the market.

The aviation sector presents even more daunting statistics, with emissions having doubled over the past three decades, eclipsing other transport modalities in terms of growth rate. Furthermore, the climate impact of aviation is potentially tripled when considering the additional effect of contrails.

T&E’s scrutiny of EU climate regulations reveals a sobering reality: these measures are poised to reduce transport emissions by merely 25% relative to 1990 levels by 2040, and by 62% by 2050. Vehicles purchased in the immediate future will continue to ply European roads, utilising petrol and diesel, for years to come. Additionally, the shipping industry currently lacks sufficient incentives to enhance operational efficiency, and the burgeoning demand for flights, propelled by increased airport capacity, nullifies the potential benefits from the adoption of green fuels within this decade.

The analysis underscores the necessity of not only implementing the Green Deal policies thoroughly but also undertaking complementary actions to achieve complete decarbonisation of transport. These actions entail curbing the demand for transport by halting the expansion of airports and motorways, setting ambitious and compulsory electric vehicle sales targets for large fleet owners, harnessing efficiency enhancements in shipping, and prioritising direct electrification of road transport over hydrogen and e-fuels due to its superior efficiency.

In a year-on-year comparison, road transport emissions have seen a reduction of 8 MtCO2e, with shipping emissions decreasing by 5 MtCO2e. Nonetheless, these gains are negated by a resurgence in aviation emissions, which have augmented by 15 MtCO2.

Todts addeed: “Cars, trucks and vans can be cheaply electrified with batteries and renewables. This is now some of the lowest hanging fruit in climate action. Planes and ships pose a tougher challenge, and require a big effort from fuel suppliers to scale green fuels like e-kerosene and ammonia, and a plan to eliminate aviation contrails. Putting an end to road and airport expansion makes the decarbonisation job a lot easier.”

The findings presented by T&E are a clarion call for transformative policy-making and a reinvigorated commitment to sustainable transport solutions to preserve the integrity of Europe’s climate objectives.