Europe's transport sector must grow sustainably

For Europe to lead by example in the fight against climate change, it must ensure its transport sector grows sustainably, writes Henrik Hololei.

Europe must its ensure its transport sector grows sustainably | Photo credit: Press Association

By Henrik Hololei

Henrik Hololei is European Commission Director General for Mobility and Transport

24 Feb 2017

Transport is part of our everyday lives. It is essential for the creation of jobs and growth. In order to strengthen the internal market and better contribute to Europe's economy, the transport sector will have to grow as well. 

However, we must balance the increasing demand for transport with actions concerning carbon emissions, air quality and climate change. The status quo is not an option. Put simply, if the transport sector is to grow, it must give itself the licence to do so.

Today, transport represents almost a quarter of Europe's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is the main cause of air pollution in cities and it is the second biggest emitter behind the energy sector.


If nothing is done, the transport sector will be the largest greenhouse gas emitter by 2030. Within transport, the road sector accounts for more than 70 per cent of all GHG emissions. It is clear that we need to tackle this as a priority area.

The low-emission mobility strategy, adopted in July last year, aims to ensure that transport in Europe grows sustainably. The strategy has several key elements.  One is to use the existing network more efficiently, for example by using the latest digital technologies to manage traffic and maintenance. This would ensure that we optimise the use of existing infrastructure, but it equally means using less energy.

At the same time, using energy more efficiently will not be enough. That's why the strategy aims to speed up the development and deployment of clean alternative energy for vehicles. Electrification, using clean renewable energy, will play a key role in cutting emissions. The strategy aims to ensure Europe moves to zero emission vehicles on the road as soon as possible.

Until we get to zero emissions for every single vehicle, we must have strict standards for measuring emissions. We have proposed and already implemented some important improvements on how vehicle emissions are measured and verified. This is necessary in order to guarantee that consumers can really trust these measurements. The Commission is currently also working on post-2020 standards for cars and vans.

To help consumers make cleaner choices, we intend to improve customer information, for example by reviewing the car labelling directive.

We will also examine public procurement criteria for clean vehicles under the revision of the clean vehicles directive. The public consultation on the revision of the clean vehicles directive is open until 24 March. After this date, my services will analyse the inputs, and open up a dialogue with the stakeholders. The aim is to come forward with proposals later this year.

In addition, we will accelerate work to curb CO2 emissions from lorries, buses and coaches. Today, they account for about a quarter of road transport CO2 emissions. Until now, lorries, buses and coaches have had no fuel efficiency standards and there was no system to monitor their CO2 emissions. We need to change this.

Stepping up efforts at EU level on climate change is very important and the EU should lead the world by example.

At the same time, we should not forget that climate change is a global - not a regional - challenge. Therefore, we have to equally reduce the impact of transport activities internationally. In 2016 significant progress was made, particularly in aviation and shipping.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation has adopted the global market-based measure, which is due to become operational in 2021 and will lead to a globally agreed reduction in international aviation emissions. 

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in turn has agreed on data collection for fuel consumption and energy efficiency. This is an important step towards reducing emissions, as we must first have an accurate picture of the actual amount of emissions in global shipping.

I firmly believe that Europe can and must go further in reducing emissions from the transport sector overall. This will help to meet the demand for transport services, but at the same time new opportunities will be created for European businesses through research and development.

The Commission, under programmes like the Connecting Europe Facility, Horizon 2020 and EFSI is providing investment support in order to ensure that new solutions can be successfully developed. There will be challenges along the way, but

I think we can turn these challenges into opportunities - the aim would be to become world leaders in clean, zero emission transport, and with this know-how and experience, we can export solutions, products and services to other regions around the world.