How to reduce CO2 emissions from road transport in Europe

By Sandra Wappelhorst, Researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT)

In 2016, the European Commission (EC) proposed an Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) aiming at a 30% reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 below the 2005 baseline in sectors not covered by the European Union’s (EU’s) emissions trading scheme (ETS) (including buildings, industry, transport, agriculture and waste).[1] For transport only, the EC modelling estimates the most cost-effective reductions of 18–19% by 2030 relative to 2005.[2]

The fundamental question arising in this context is which are the low-carbon road transport policies that have a significant potential for achieving the EU 2030 target? One key policy identified within the Mobility4EU project is the electrification of the European vehicle fleet. Solutions developed in the course of the project as part of a “minimum carbon scenario” differentiated by passenger and freight transport include incentivizing zero-emission and low-emission vehicles (ZLEVs), developing sustainable vehicle technologies for the automotive sector or only allowing access for electric and non-motorised vehicles in city centres.[3] These solutions mainly cover the local, regional, national or sectoral level. However, to be most effective in reducing CO2 emissions in EU transport, these solutions need to be paired with stringent CO2 reduction targets at the European level that would scale up the share of ZLEVs.

S. Wappelhorst (ICCT) during the MOBILITY4EU “Consensus Building” workshop in Brussels, 2017.

So, what are the effects of CO2 standards for achieving the proposed 30% CO2 reduction target? To answer this question, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) projected direct CO2 emissions from cars, vans, trucks, and buses using ICCT’s Global Transportation Roadmap Model.[4] The figure below shows that under a baseline scenario, adopted 2020/2021 standards for light-duty vehicles (LDV) including cars and vans would reduce road transport CO2 emissions to approximately 14% below 2005 levels by 2030 (grey line). Under the EC proposal, requiring average new vehicle CO2 emission levels to fall by 30% by 2030, road transport CO2 emissions would further reduce to approximately 20% below 2005 levels by 2030 (red line). Adding moderately ambitious standards for heavy-duty vehicles (HDV) including trucks and buses would bring the total to 23% below 2005 in 2030 (pink line). More stringent targets for LDV and HDV could further reduce road transport CO2 emissions to approximately 33% below 2005 levels in 2030 (blue line). Under the first three scenarios, the transportation sector would likely meet its contribution to the ESR based EC modelling of 18–19%. Under the fourth scenario, the most ambitious, emission reduction targets for road transport would be more in line with the 30% target by the EC for non-ETS sectors.

As a complement to adopting more stringent CO2 standards for LDVs and HDVs, additional measures developed within the Mobility4EU project as part of the minimum-carbon scenario — such as improving system efficiency by increasing average vehicle occupancy or incentivizing modal shifts to public transport and active modes — have additional CO2 reduction potential that would contribute to the EU’s near-term (2030) and long-term (2050) climate goals.

direct CO2 emissions in the EU from road transport (excluding motorcycles) with adopted, proposed, and potential CO2 standards

[1] European Commission (2016): Proposal for an Effort Sharing Regulation 2021–2030.

[2] European Commission (2016): Commission Staff Working Document accompanying the document “A European Strategy for Low-Emission Mobility” decarbonisation/swd%282016%29244.pdf

[3] Mobility4EU consortium (2017): D3.1 — Report on MAMCA scenario descriptions. file:

[4] Jan Dornoff, Joshua Miller, Peter Mock, Uwe Tietge (2018): The European Commission regulatory proposal for post-2020 CO2 targets for cars and vans: A summary and evaluation. ICCT Briefing January 2018.