Transport is the only major sector in the EU in which emissions have increased since 1990, and especially since 2013. The increase has been driven by higher activity levels in the new EU member states, and larger cars in almost all EU countries. Illustrative 1.5°C compatible pathways show a change of this trend: emissions need to decrease by up to 59% between 2019 and 2030, and continue to significantly drop in the 2030s. In most pathways, transport becomes carbon neutral in the 2050s.
The main driver of decarbonisation according to analysed 1.5°C compatible pathways is electrification. By 2030, electricity could constitute between 10 and 43% of energy used in the transport sector. This share increases to between 28 and 66% by 2040 and between 35 and 76% by 2050. The role of hydrogen is more uncertain especially in the mid-term: whereas the range of the scenarios for 2030 is between 2 and 4%, for 2040 it is much broader: between 9 and 41%. By 2050 the bottom of the range increases significantly to 21% whereas the maximum increases only slightly to 44%.
The share of electric vehicles in the EU doubled to 16% in the first nine months of 2021 in comparison to the same period in 2020, indicating a potential change in the emissions trend.20 The proposal of the European Commission to reduce emissions of new passenger cars by 55% by 2030 in comparison to 2021 and by 100% by 2035 is a positive step towards full decarbonisation of the EU’s transport sector.17
1 Agora Energiewende and Ember. The European Power Sector in 2020: Up-to-Date Analysis on the Electricity Transition. Agora Energiewende and Ember. (2021).
2 European Commission. EU Climate Action Progress Report 2020. (2020).
3 IEA. Global Energy Review: CO2 Emissions in 2020. IEA (2021).
4 European Council. European Council meeting (12 December 2019) – Conclusions. (2019).
5 European Commission. A Clean Planet for all. A European long-term strategic vision for a prosperous , modern , competitive and climate neutral economy. (2018).
6 European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018. Off. J. Eur. Union 328, 1–77 (2018).
7 Council of the European Union. EU energy efficiency rules adapted in view of Brexit. (2019).
8 European Parliament. Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources. Off. J. Eur. Union 2018, 82–209 (2018).
9 European Parliament. Directive (EU) 2018/410 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 March 2018 amending Directive 2003/87/EC to enhance cost-effective emission reductions and low-carbon investments, and Decision (EU) 2015/1814. Off. J. Eur. Union L76, 3–27 (2018).
10 EU. Regulation (EU) 2019/1242 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 Setting CO2 emission performance standards for new heavy-duty vehicles and amending Regulations (EC) No 595/2009 and (EU) 2018/956 of the European Parliament. Off. J. Eur. Union L 198, 202–240 (2019).
11 Regulation (EU) 2019/631. Regulation (EU) 2019/631 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 April 2019 setting CO2 emission performance standards for new passenger cars and for new light commercial vehicles, and repealing Regulations (EC) No 443/2009 and (EU) No 510/201. Off. J. Eur. Union 62, 13–53 (2019).
12 European Parliament. Regulation (EU) 2018/842. Off. J. Eur. Union 2018, 26–42 (2018).
13 European Commission. Regulation (EU) 2018/841 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2018 on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry in the 2030 climate and energy framework, and amending Regulation. Off. J. Eur. Union 19, 1–25 (2018).
14 Considering LULUCF sink projected by the Commission at 472 MtCO₂ (Scenario 1.5LIFE). Excluding LULUCF net-zero GHG would be brought twenty years later.
15 While global cost-effective pathways assessed by the IPCC Special Report 1.5°C provide useful guidance for an upper-limit of emissions trajectories for developed countries, they underestimate the feasible space for such countries to reach net zero earlier. The current generation of models tend to depend strongly on land-use sinks outside of currently developed countries and include fossil fuel use well beyond the time at which these could be phased out, compared to what is understood from bottom-up approaches. The scientific teams which provide these global pathways constantly improve the technologies represented in their models – and novel CDR technologies are now being included in new studies focused on deep mitigation scenarios meeting the Paris Agreement. A wide assessment database of these new scenarios is not yet available; thus, we rely on available scenarios which focus particularly on BECCS as a net-negative emission technology. Accordingly, we do not yet consider land-sector emissions (LULUCF) and other CDR approaches which developed countries will need to implement in order to counterbalance their remaining emissions and reach net zero GHG are not considered here due to data availability.
16 In analysed global-least cost pathways assessed by the IPCC Special Report 1.5°C, the energy sector assumes already a certain amount of carbon dioxide removal technologies, in this case bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
17 European Commision’s Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL amending Regulation (EU) 2019/631 as regards strengthening the CO2 emission performance standards for new passenger cars and new light commercial vehicles in line with the Union’s increased climate ambition.
18 EEA. Trends and projections in Europe 2021.
19 Example of steel production using green hydrogen and recent developments.
20 Own calculations based on ACEA data.
the European Unionʼs energy mix in the transport sector
petajoule per year
- Natural gas
- Oil and e-fuels
the European Unionʼs transport sector direct CO₂ emissions (of energy demand)
- Historical emissions
- High energy demand - Low CDR reliance
- Low energy demand
- SSP1 High CDR reliance
- SSP1 Low CDR reliance
1.5°C compatible transport sector benchmarks
Direct CO₂ emissions and direct electrification rates from illustrative 1.5°C pathways for the European Union
Decarbonised transport sector by
Direct CO₂ emissions
330 to 354
132 to 133
5 to 57
2048 to 2053
Relative to reference year in %
−59 to −56%
−99 to −93%
Share of electricity
10 to 43
28 to 66
35 to 76
Share of biofuels
13 to 22
18 to 32
18 to 45
Share of hydrogen
2 to 4
9 to 41
22 to 44