Clean and sustainable mobility

Clean and sustainable mobility

European Council — 2023-10-06

News from Brussels

The EU has long supported the development of EU transport systems, to foster the single market and increase connectivity among Europe’s regions.

In addition, EU countries are legally committed to make the EU climate-neutral by 2050. To this end, the transport sector needs to undergo a transformation which will require a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, while ensuring affordable solutions to citizens.

Here below are some of the main EU policy initiatives for more sustainable mobility in the EU. 


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 new directive was published in the EU Official Journal on 4 March 2022 and entered into force 20 days after publication. 

CO2 emissions from road transport

In 2019, the Council agreed on rules to limit CO2 emission from cars and vans by 2030.

Within the Fit for 55 package presented in July 2021, the Commission proposed to revise these rules and increase the emissions reduction target to 55% for cars and 50% for vans, compared to 2021 levels. Further, it proposed to set a target for 2035 of 100% for both cars and vans.

The Council is currently discussing the proposal with a view to revising the existing legislation in agreement with the European Parliament.

Limits for trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles were adopted in June 2019. New rules will require manufacturers to cut CO2 emissions from new trucks (compared with 2019 levels) on average by:

  • 15% from 2025
  • 30% from 2030


European Year of Rail 2021

Rail transport is the most sustainable means of transport. According to data from the European Environment Agency, in 2017 only 0.5% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions came from the railway sector.

On the basis of a Commission proposal, the Council and the European Parliament agreed, following the co-decision procedure, to designate 2021 as the European Year of Rail. The Year featured events and campaigns across Europe.

In June 2021, the Council adopted conclusions on rail. EU ministers underlined the need to further develop rail transport for both passengers and goods in the EU. They also highlighted the importance of strengthening the resilience of rail in the face of a crisis and of continuing to invest in the interoperability of national systems and in stronger connectivity.

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 Council formally adopted the new rules in January 2021, after reaching a provisional agreement with the Parliament in October 2020. The new rules entered into force in June 2021 and will become applicable two years later. 


Sustainable aviation fuels

Sustainable aviation fuels (synthetic aviation fuels) have the potential to significantly reduce aircraft emissions. However, this potential is largely untapped as such fuels represent only 0.05% of total fuel consumption in the aviation sector.

The Commission presented the ReFuelEU aviation proposal within the Fit for 55 package in July 2021. It aims to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint and help the EU achieve its climate targets, while ensuring a level playing field for a sustainable air transport sector.

In June 2022, EU transport ministers reached an agreement on a joint position on the ReFuelEU aviation proposal. They largely supported the objectives of the proposal and presented their views on how such objectives would be achieved by using different types of fuel and by using different levels of uptake of fuels in the coming years. They also stressed the importance of ensuring sufficient production and distribution capacity to supply the sustainable aviation fuels needed for the sector and to avoid market fragmentation.

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 global 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), a global market-based measure

In June 2020, the EU confirmed its participation in CORSIA from the start of the voluntary phase on 1 January 2021.

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), also concerning aviation, with the aim to increase the sector’s contribution to EU climate policy and implement CORSIA in the EU.

In addition, the Commission presented a proposal for a decision to enable member states to comply with some of their CORSIA obligations by November 2022, pending a political agreement on the revision of the ETS by the co-legislators. In May 2022, the Permanent Representatives Committee adopted a mandate for negotiations with the European Parliament on the proposal. 

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 a proposal to change the existing regulation. An amended version, submitted by the Commission on 22 September 2020, was presented to transport ministers on 8 October 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. 


Shipping emissions

The Commission has released a proposal on the use of renewable and low-carbon fuels in maritime transport (FuelEU Maritime) as part of the Fit for 55 package. The goal of the proposal is to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the energy used on-board by ships by up to 75% by 2050, by promoting the use of greener fuels by ships using EU ports, while ensuring the smooth operation of maritime traffic and avoiding distortions in the internal market.

At the June Transport Council, EU ministers unanimously adopted a general approach on the proposal. During their discussion, ministers largely supported the objectives of the proposal, insofar as it promotes the use of renewable and low-carbon fuels in a sector that still relies almost entirely on fossil fuels.

The EU also works within the context of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships. An international strategy for emission reduction was adopted in 2011 and the short-term measures should be completed before 2023.

The presidency of the Council attends the meetings of IMO members. All EU member states are members of the organisation.

Funding and infrastructure

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.

Following the provisional agreement between the Council and the Parliament, the new programme for the period 2021-2027 was first adopted by the Council in June 2021 and later by Parliament in July. Following its publication in the EU Official Journal, the regulation applies retroactively from 1 January 2021. The transport sector will receive the bulk of the funding (about €25 billion out of €33 billion), of which by far the largest share will be dedicated to rail.

Alternative fuels infrastructure

The Commission presented a proposal for the revision of existing legislation on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure (AFIR). The objective of the proposal is to ensure EU-wide deployment of publicly accessible electric recharging and alternative fuels refuelling infrastructure in the road transport, aviation and waterborne transport sectors. It also aims to ensure that the infrastructure is interoperable and user-friendly. 

The proposal, included in the Fit for 55 package, concerns all modes of transport and includes targets for infrastructure deployment.

The revised rules send a clear signal to citizens and stakeholders that user-friendly recharging infrastructure will be installed wherever it is needed, throughout the EU. They will:

  • remove a barrier to the use of zero- and low-emission vehicles and vessels
  • give the transport sector the means to significantly reduce its carbon footprint

The Council adopted a general approach on the new rules in June 2022.