Enabling the transition to cleaner, smarter mobility

Europe’s transport system is the region’s second-biggest source of climate-warming emissions, and the sector is predominantly powered by imported oil. The task of tackling climate change can therefore be complemented by the opportunity to capture economic co-benefits due to reduced oil import dependency. For each €100 spent on fuelling the average vehicle, €43 leaves the European economy to pay petroleum suppliers.

Simply shifting to more efficient vehicles, such as hybrids, would reduce the amount of money leaving the European economy and would leave households with more disposable income, even after accounting for the slightly increased cost of vehicles. Increasing the share of domestically-produced energy in transport, such as renewable electricity and hydrogen, would improve the energy trade balance and reduce the economy’s exposure to oil price volatility.

Research funded by the ECF and informed by industry partners found that this shift in economic activity could generate around 800,000 jobs by 2030 during a moderate transition to hybrids and electric vehicles. If pursued globally, this transition could lower oil prices compared to business-as-usual, further boosting growth in import-dependent economies such as that of Europe.

Innovation of cleaner vehicle technologies must also be accompanied by a reduction in the carbon-intensity of the energy used to propel them. The carbon-intensity of Europe’s electricity has fallen by 12,8% since 1990, and is on track to fall a further 47% by 2030. However, liquid fuels are likely to remain the dominant energy source for transport during this timeframe. This creates an opportunity to innovate a sustainable European supply chain for advanced biofuels from wastes and residues, reducing emissions in those transport modes that are difficult to electrify and improving Europe’s energy trade balance.


The benefits described above will not be easily secured, because multiple non-economic barriers have locked inefficiency into the current system. While many other sectors are rapidly reducing carbon emissions, strong demand for transport has maintained emissions above 1990 levels.

Overcoming these barriers will require policy measures, such as CO2 standards, to ensure that the market is supplied with cleaner vehicles, as well as measures to stimulate demand for these same vehicles, such as clear and transparent fuel-economy labelling. The EU CO2 standards have delivered a 20% cut in car emissions since they were agreed in 2008 and are on track to deliver a further 23% cut by 2021.

Much more can be done to improve the efficiency of conventional engines beyond 2021, but ultimately the challenge of tackling climate change will require a transition to vehicles powered by alternatives energy sources, such as electricity, hydrogen and low-carbon liquid fuels. At the same time, progress towards cleaner mobility must take place alongside multiple other trends, such as urbanisation, digitisation, new business models and changing consumer attitudes to ownership. Careful planning will be needed to ensure transport is smoothly integrated into the electricity network to minimise the need for additional investment in infrastructure and generating capacity. This complex mixture shows that the transport transition raises issues for the whole of society – calling for thinking well beyond just the personal car.

How much spending on oil can European policy avoid in 2030?


The ECF Transport Programme’s primary focus has long been on strengthening standards for cars, vans, and trucks. We have done this in cooperation with key partners from industry and civil society, as well as by funding studies that provide our partners with the necessary technological, economic and policy analysis to bolster their arguments. To date, we have achieved considerable progress – most notably by demonstrating that a CO2 standard for cars of 95g/km in 2021 is good for consumers, the economy and the environment.

We are pursuing a similar strategy for the aviation and shipping sectors, where our focus also includes measures to incentivise emissions reductions from the existing fleet.

In addition, we are gearing up for political discussions about a much wider reform of the entire transport system. Moving to an ultra-low-carbon transport system will require managing a complex process. For example, further measures will be needed to ensure consumer demand for zero-emissions vehicles; to support the deployment of new charging infrastructure; and to ensure smooth integration with the electricity grid. For the ECF, this will mean broadening our scope, moving from a focus on fuel efficiency alone to the efficiency of the entire mobility system, while taking the best mix of modes, technologies and spatial planning into consideration.

We plan to do this in close consultation with industry, civil society, trade unions, consumer associations and other important stakeholders. Collaboration is the key to success.

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