Protecting the environment means decarbonising the transport sector

Written by Henna Virkkunen on 24 February 2017 in Opinion

In order for the transport sector to reduce its emissions, there needs to be joint action on the part of policymakers and industry, says Henna Virkkunen.

Henna Virkkunen | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

Last year, the Commission presented a new strategy to decarbonise transport and lower its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60 per cent compared to 1990 levels by 2050. 

Most emissions and air pollution is caused by road transport, so that is where action has been targeted. Shifting to low-emission mobility is an opportunity for the transport industry to embrace new technologies, drive global standards and provide new jobs.

A coherent policy framework is needed together with joint action from the transport and fuel industries to meet the targets for emissions reduction.


Renewable energy and innovative energy technologies are important to achieve an environmentally sustainable energy mix for European transport systems. The use of varied renewable and low emissions energy sources should be encouraged.

Fuel quality is an important element in reducing emissions in the transport sector. Currently, 94 per cent of transport relies on oil products. Several low-emission options are available already: advanced biofuels, electricity, hydrogen and LNG. All  of these are needed to cut emissions.

We need different ways to incentivise low-emission mobility but in a technology neutral way, such as setting targets. Industry will figure out the best and most effective way to achieve the targets.

Advanced biofuels are a realistic and viable option to reduce emissions up to 2020 and beyond. Biofuels offer a way to produce fuels from renewable sources and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels.

Cities are in a key position to deliver low-emission mobility solutions, as over 70 per cent of the EU population lives in cities and estimates suggest that by 2050 up to 82 per cent of EU population will live in urban areas.

This trend has several unpleasant side effects such as increased noise emissions, congestion, poor air quality and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

Urban transport is the biggest polluter in urban areas and poor air quality has serious health effects. In order to guarantee the infrastructure for alternative energy and promote the use of low- or zero-emission vehicles, standardisation and interoperability are crucial. 

For instance, interoperability of payments and availability of real-time information on charging points as well as standards for batteries, charging plugs for electric buses and motorbikes are needed.

Unleashing the full potential of digitalisation in the sector makes transport not only safer but also more efficient. Therefore it is important to create incentives for the use of digital technologies via regulatory frameworks and set standards to ensure interoperability. This also encourages people to shift to cycling, public transport, bike- and car-sharing as well as car-pooling.

Higher efficiency of the transport systems, low-emission alternative energy for transport, low- and zero emission vehicles, behavioural choices, better and smarter use of an existing infrastructure are key aspects of sustainable mobility across the EU.

Decarbonising transport will lead to energy saving and climate protection benefiting environment, health and quality of life.


About the author

Henna Virkkunen (FI) is Parliament's EPP group shadow rapporteur on sustainable urban mobility


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