European Union decision makers face a range of transport issues over the next few years, from handling road congestion to smart technologies like autonomous driving. However, the one issue that is dominating the EU’s transport policy agenda more than any other: how to cut emissions.

Climate change has become the top policy priority for the EU as it moves to reduce emissions. Transport makes up one quarter of EU greenhouse gas emissions, and its share is growing. While overall EU emissions fell by 23% between 1990 and 2016, transport emissions rose by 28% over the same period.

What is the EU doing about it? The EU has already pledged to cut greenhouse gases, first under the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty and now under the 2015 Paris Agreement. It will reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. Current laws say EU members must ensure that renewable sources account for at least 10% of energy in transport by 2020. The Commission says the combined weight of its policy measures could mean low-emission energy rises to around 15-17% of transport energy demand by 2030.

Programmes over the years have set targets for different transport modes to cut their fuel emissions. Last November, the European Commission unveiled plans to slash light vehicle carbon dioxide emissions, saying they must be cut by 15% by 2025 and 30% by 2030 compared with 2021. The proposal piles pressure on manufacturers to develop more hybrid and electric vehicles.

It has worked. Until recently, there were few alternatives to the combustion engine, but that is no longer the case. Today, some manufacturers already have full electric vehicles on the market.

At the same time, many EU member states are going further, offering financial incentives for plug-in electric vehicles. Britain, France, and the Netherlands have all announced bans on diesel vehicles by 2040.

There are, of course, other transport issues on the EU’s agenda. Here are a few of them:

  • Investment: when the Commission unveiled its 2021-27 budget proposals on May 2, it dedicated a spending envelope of €30·6bn for transport investment, to be channelled through the Connecting Europe Facility.
  • Smart transport: in May 2017, the Commission unveiled the ‘Europe on the Move’ initiatives to make traffic safer, encourage smart road charging, cut air pollution and congestion.
  • Safety: while statistics show a fall in the annual number of EU road fatalities, in April the Commission acknowledged that it was unlikely to reach the 2020 road safety target of halving the number of road fatalities compared to 2010 (from 31,500 to 15,750).
  • Brexit: the EU is braced for disruption when the UK leaves in March 2019, in areas like aviation rights, and international freight, which is connected through the Channel tunnel.
  • Rail modernisation: four legislative packages were adopted between 2001 and 2016 to open up rail transport service markets for competition, making national railway systems interoperable, but persistent barriers remain.

Whilst all of these will keep policy-makers busy, it will be the emissions-challenge that will dominate their discussions.