Transport is responsible for nearly 30% of the EU’s total CO2 emissions, of which 72% comes from road transportation. As part of efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, the EU has set a goal of reducing emissions from transport by 60% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.
Transport emissions on the rise
Significantly reducing CO2 emissions from transport will not be easy, as the rate of emission reductions has slowed. Other sectors have cut emissions since 1990, but as more people become more mobile, CO2 emissions from transport are increasing.
Efforts to improve the fuel efficiency of new cars are also slowing. After a steady decline, newly registered cars emitted on average 0.4 grammes of CO2 per kilometre more in 2017 than the year before.
To curb the trend, the EU is proposing new CO2 emission targets, which aim to cut harmful emissions from new cars and vans. MEPs will vote on the new rules during the plenary session on 27 March.
Cars major polluters
CO2 emissions from passenger transport vary significantly depending on the transport mode. Passenger cars are a major polluter, accounting for 60.7% of total CO2 emissions from road transport in Europe.
However, cars can be among the cleanest modes of transport if they carry at least four people, with only a train emitting less CO2 per person travelling.
With an average of 1.5 people per car in Europe, other modes of transport, such as buses, are currently a cleaner alternative.
Are electric cars cleaner?
There are two ways to reduce CO2 emissions from cars: by making vehicles more efficient or by changing the fuel used. Today, the majority of cars in Europe use petrol (52%); however, electric cars are gaining traction.
Despite electric cars’ small market share (about 1.5 % of new registered passenger vehicles), the number of new electric car registrations in the EU has been increasing steadily over the last few years. Sales of battery electric vehicles in the EU rose 51% in 2017 compared to the year before.
To calculate the amount of CO2 produced by a car not only the CO2 emitted during use must be taken into account, but also the emissions caused by its production and disposal.
The production and disposal of an electric car is less environmentally friendly than a car with an internal combustion engine and the level of emissions from electric vehicles varies depending on how the electricity is produced.
However, taking into account the average energy mix in Europe, electric cars are already proving to be cleaner than vehicles running on petrol. As the share of electricity from renewable sources is set to increase in the future, electric cars will become even less harmful for the environment.
Other EU measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions
Under the Paris agreement on climate change, the EU committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% in all economic sectors by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
In addition to setting targets for car emissions, MEPs have adopted the following measures to help the EU meet this commitment:
- The European Emissions Trade Scheme for the industry’s emissions
- Binding national targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions from non-industrial sectors
- The use of forests to offset carbon emissions
Check out our infographic on the EU’s progress towards reaching its 2020 climate change targets.