Towards the decarbonisation of the EU's transport sector by 2050

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Decarbonising transport is likely to be challenging given that transport's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have continued to increase in recent years in spite of reductions in most other major sectors of the economy. This trend has the potential to undermine the EU's ability to achieve its long-term, economy-wide GHG reduction objective (see Figure 4). Under the assumptions used in this project, which included a continuation of recent improvements in vehicle efficiency, transport's GHG emissions in 2050 would be 74% higher than they were in 1990 and around 25% above 2010 levels without additional policy intervention. This increase is largely due to the anticipated growth in transport demand, particularly for maritime transport (+87% from 2010 to 2050), aviation (+103%) and road freight (+79%). As a result, the GHG emissions of maritime transport are projected to increase by more than 65% between 2010 and 2050, while those of aviation and road freight are anticipated to go up by more than 50% and 45%, respectively.

In this context, it is important for the Commission to consider the long-term policy actions that might be necessary to reduce transport's GHG emissions, in order to build on the policy instruments already in place. This project aimed to provide information and analysis to assist the Commission with its thinking in this respect. It was undertaken for DG Climate Action (previously DG Environment) between December 2008 and March 2010 by a team led by AEA, and also involved CE Delft, TNO, ISIS and Milieu. The aim of the project was to identify the GHG reductions that might be achieved from all modes of transport, including international aviation and maritime transport, by 2050 and the policy instruments that might be required. It was based on a review of the evidence, extensive stakeholder engagement and the development of an illustrative scenarios tool called SULTAN3.

There are particular challenges associated with a project that is attempting to look 40 years into the future. First, it is difficult to know whether the transport vehicles and services of 2050 will be similar to, or distinctly different from, those of 2010. Second, as transport is largely a derived demand, which is determined by wider societal and economic developments, the society and economy of 2050 will be an important element in determining transport demand in 2050. However, given that some of the vehicles that will appear in the fleet in the next 10 years are likely to still be operating in 2050, particularly ships and aircraft, action taken in the next 10 years will influence transport's GHG emissions in 2050. Additionally, changes to the structure of the transport system, e.g. through changes in spatial planning, often take years to have their full impact, while new technologies typically take a number of decades to develop and mature. Hence, while challenging, this project was important in identifying what could be done given existing expectations.

Skinner, I., Van Essen, H., Smokers, R. & Hill, N., EU Transport GHG: Routes to 2050?
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