Clean and sustainable mobility

Clean and sustainable mobility

European Council — 2023-10-16

News from Brussels

Decarbonising the transport sector is key to reach the EU’s climate targets. EU rules aim to make mobility more sustainable while ensuring connectivity across the EU.

EU climate goals and the transport sector

The EU supports the development of transport systems to foster the single market and increase connectivity among Europe’s regions while decarbonising the sector.

Under the Paris agreement, EU countries are committed to making the EU climate-neutral by 2050. To achieve this goal, the EU will reduce its economy-wide net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 % compared to 1990 levels by 2030, and continue progressively cut emissions to 2050.

To contribute to this goal, the transport sector needs to undergo a transformation which will require a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050.

Transport accounts for one quarter of EU greenhouse gas emissions

Progress in decarbonising transport has been slower than in other economic sectors. While emissions have decreased significantly in other sectors, transport emissions have risen in recent years. Making passenger and freight transport in the EU more efficient and less dependent on fossil fuels is crucial.

In 2021, the Council adopted conclusions on the Commission’s smart and sustainable mobility strategy which outlined the EU's goals for making mobility in the EU green, smart and resilient.

The Fit for 55 package is a set of policy initiatives and laws to reach the 2030 target of reducing emissions by at least 55% and includes key initiatives to help decarbonise road, air and maritime transport.

Here below are some of the most recent EU policy initiatives for more sustainable mobility. 


Cars and vans: CO2 emission standards

Road transport has the highest share of greenhouse gas emissions from transport. Cars alone account for 12% of all EU emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). 

In March 2023, the Council adopted new rules to further reduce CO2 emissions from new cars and vans, revising the EU regulation on this subject from 2019.

The revised rules set targets for a progressive cut of emissions. From 2030 to 2034, emissions will have to be reduced by 55% for new cars and by 50% for new vans, compared to the 2021 targets.

From 2035, all new cars and vans will have to be zero-emission. 

Trucks and buses: CO2 emission standards

Emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles were adopted in June 2019. New rules will strengthen the existing regulation to contribute to the EU achieving its ambitions to fight climate change.

The proposal aims to further reduce CO2 emissions in the road transport sector in line with the EU’s climate objectives by raising the emissions reduction targets for 2030 and introducing new targets for 2035 and 2040. The proposed rules expand the scope of the regulation to make almost all new heavy-duty vehicles with certified CO₂ emissions – including smaller trucks, urban buses, coaches and trailers – subject to emission reduction targets. Under the updated rules, all new urban buses should be zero-emission from 2035. Long-distance buses and coaches would remain subject to the overall targets.

The Council has reached an agreement ('general approach') on the proposal in October 2023. The next steps are negotiations with the European Parliament. 

Euro 7

In addition to setting emission standards for vehicles, the EU is working on rules which will further lower air pollutants from road transport.

The Euro 7 regulation sets rules for emissions in complementary with the above CO2 limits, and also for other polluting elements. This includes pollution from tyre abrasion, breaks and batteries.

The rules cover cars, vans and heavy-duty vehicles in a single legal act.

The Council adopted a general approach on the regulation in September 2023.

Road charging

EU legislation sets rules for charging heavy-duty vehicles for the use of certain road infrastructure in member states.

In November 2021, the Council gave the green light for a revision of these rules, which are referred to collectively as the ‘Eurovignette’ directive. The revised law aims to favour greener and more efficient transport, and it includes a new scheme to address CO2 emissions to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint in line with the European Green Deal and the Paris Agreement.

The directive entered into force in March 2022. 


Rail transport, largely powered by electricity, is the most sustainable means of transport. According to data from the European Environment Agency, in 2018 only 0.4% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from the railway sector.

In 2021, the Council adopted conclusions on rail as part of smarter and more sustainable mobility in the EU. EU ministers highlighted the need to further develop rail transport for both passengers and goods in the EU.

As part of the greening freight package, the Commission presented its proposal on the use of railway infrastructure capacity on 11 July 2023. This initiative includes measures aimed at better managing, coordinating and thereby increasing the capacity of railways.

Rail passengers' rights

In 2021, the EU revised its rules on rail passengers to better protect the rights of passengers, and in particular those with disabilities or reduced mobility. The provisions also support clean mobility by making it easier for travellers to transport their bikes on trains.

The revised rules oblige railway undertakings to install bicycle spaces and inform passengers of available capacity for bikes. As a general rule, there needs to be at least four spaces for bicycles on each European train.

The new rules entered into force in June 2021. 


ReFuelEU aviation: sustainable aviation fuels

Sustainable aviation fuels (biofuels, synthetic aviation fuels and recycled carbon aviation fuels) are one of the key short- and medium-term tools to significantly reduce aircraft emissions. However, this potential is largely untapped as the development of sustainable aviation fuels is hindered by a low level of supply and prices much higher than prices of fossil fuels. As a result, such fuels represent only 0.05% of total fuel consumption in the aviation sector.

The ReFuelEU aviation proposal within the Fit for 55 package aims to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint and help the EU achieve its climate targets through the increased uptake of sustainable aviation fuels, while ensuring a level playing field for a sustainable air transport sector. Under the new rules, aircraft fuel suppliers will have to increase the share of sustainable fuels up to 70% by 2050.

Following the provisional agreement with the European Parliament on the proposal in April 2023, the Council adopted the proposal in October 2023.

Sustainability of international aviation

All EU countries are members of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Together with the other members, they are working to improve the environmental performance of aviation.

With a view to minimising the adverse effects of international civil aviation on the climate and promoting the sustainable growth of international aviation, the ICAO is working on a number of measures, which include:

  • aircraft technology improvements
  • operational improvements
  • sustainable aviation fuels
  • CORSIA (carbon offsetting and reduction scheme for international aviation)

In June 2020, the EU confirmed its participation in CORSIA from the start of the voluntary phase on 1 January 2021. In addition, the Council adopted a decision in December 2022 to enable member states to comply with some of their CORSIA obligations.

In July 2021, in the context of the Fit for 55 package, the Commission presented its proposal for a revision of the EU emissions trading system (ETS) concerning aviation, with the aim to increase the sector’s contribution to EU climate policy and implement CORSIA in the EU. The Council adopted the new rules in April 2023.

Single European Sky II+

EU member states have been working on developing common rules and objectives for the management of European airspace under the Single European Sky. Efficient air traffic management should help reduce emissions from the sector, as well as ensuring sufficient capacity and cost-efficiency gains.

The Commission has put forward an amended proposal to change the existing regulation on 22 September 2020. In June 2021, the Council agreed on a general approach on the reform of the Single European Sky. Trilogues with the European Parliament are ongoing. 


FuelEU maritime: decarbonised fuels

A part of the Fit for 55 package, the FuelEU maritime initiative will advance the use of renewable and low-carbon fuels in maritime transport.

The goal is to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the energy used on-board by ships by up to 80% by 2050, by promoting the use of more sustainable fuels by ships using EU ports, while ensuring the smooth operation of maritime traffic and avoiding distortions in the internal market.

The new rules were adopted by the Council in July 2023.

The EU also works within the context of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships. A revised IMO strategy for reduction of emissions was adopted in July 2023, with the ambition to reach net zero emissions around 2050. Measures to implement the revised IMO strategy are under discussion.

The presidency of the Council and other EU member states attend the meetings of IMO and contribute actively to the development of environmental and other measures. All EU member states are members of the organisation.


Trans-European transport network (TEN-T)

The trans-European transport network (TEN-T) has been designed since 1996 with the goal of establishing criteria for cross border projects leading to trans-European connectivity. Environmentally friendly modes of transport are supported in the project.

The current TEN-T guidelines of 2013 (regulation 1315/2013) have been subject to an ambitious overhaul since December 2021. This reform of the network is currently being negotiated among the EU institutions.

The proposal includes measures such as:

  • setting a dwelling time at border crossings for freight trains and a maximum delay on arrival at their destination
  • infrastructure upgrade for higher train speeds and for longer freight trains
  • the deployment of charging and refuelling infrastructure for alternative transport fuels in line with the alternative fuels infrastructure regulation
  • more transhipment hubs and multimodal passenger terminals around cities to facilitate multimodality
  • connecting large airports to the rail network

Alternative fuels infrastructure

The alternative fuels infrastructure regulation (AFIR) aims to ensure EU-wide deployment of publicly accessible electric recharging and alternative fuels refuelling infrastructure in the road transport, aviation and waterborne transport sectors.

The rules set targets for the deployment of recharging and refuelling stations. This includes ensuring recharging stations at least every 60 kilometers on main roads.


The Council adopted the regulation in July 2023.

Greening of freight transport

Freight accounts for over 30% of transport CO2 emissions, with freight volumes projected to rise.

The greening freight package, presented by the Commission in July 2023, aims at improving the performance of freight transport by introducing measures to increase its efficiency and overall sustainability, while promoting more sustainable transport choices, such as rail and inland waterways.

The Council is discussing the proposal at technical level.


Connecting Europe Facility 2021-2027

Promoting sustainability is one of the core goals of the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF). As the key funding mechanism for investments in EU transport systems, the CEF contributes to the decarbonisation of the mobility sector and thus to reaching the 2050 climate-neutrality goal. The regulation applies retroactively from 1 January 2021.

The transport sector will receive the bulk of the funding (about €25 bn out of €33 bn), of which by far the largest share will be dedicated to rail.