Transport is the backbone of the EU economy, connecting people and businesses across various EU regions and countries. However, transport also generates significant costs to society, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, environmental pollution, accidents, congestion and loss of biodiversity. To address these challenges and achieve climate neutrality by 2050, the European Commission presented its ‘Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy’ together with an Action Plan of 82 initiatives that will guide its work for the next four years.
The strategy lays the foundation for how the EU transport system can achieve its green and digital transformation and become more resilient to future crises. As outlined in the European Green Deal, the result will be a 90% cut in emissions by 2050, delivered by a smart, competitive, safe, accessible and affordable transport system.
Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, said: “To reach our climate targets, emissions from the transport sector must get on a clear downward trend. Today’s strategy will shift the way people and goods move across Europe and make it easy to combine different modes of transport in a single journey. We’ve set ambitious targets for the entire transport system to ensure a sustainable, smart, and resilient return from the COVID-19 crisis.”
Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said: “As the backbone that connects European citizens and business, transport matters to us all. We have no time to lose in getting it fit for the future. Digital technologies have the potential to revolutionise the way we move, making our mobility smarter, more efficient, and also greener. We need to provide businesses a clear pathway for the green investments they will need to make over the coming decades. Through the implementation of this strategy, we will create an irreversible shift to zero-emission mobility while making our transport system more efficient and resilient.”
The strategy sets out concrete milestones for a smart and sustainable future of transport. By 2030, at least 30 million zero-emission cars will be in operation on European roads; 100 European cities will be climate neutral; high-speed rail traffic will double across Europe; scheduled collective travel for journeys under 500 km should be carbon neutral; automated mobility will be deployed at large scale; and zero-emission marine vessels will be market-ready. By 2035, zero-emission large aircraft will be market-ready. By 2050, nearly all cars, vans, buses as well as new heavy-duty vehicles will be zero-emission; rail freight traffic will double; and a fully operational, multimodal Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) for sustainable and smart transport with high speed connectivity will be in place.
To make these goals a reality, the strategy identifies a total of 82 initiatives in 10 key areas for action (“flagships”), each with concrete measures. Some of these include:
- Making multimodal ticketing and payment systems more accessible and attractive across different modes of transport;
- Boosting the uptake of zero-emission vehicles by revising CO2 emission standards for cars and vans;
- Supporting the deployment of public charging and refuelling points as part of alternative fuels infrastructure;
- Promoting sustainable alternative fuels, including hydrogen and biofuels;
- Enhancing rail freight capacity and service quality through a dedicated Rail Freight Corridors Regulation;
- Increasing support for innovation and research through Horizon Europe funding;
- Developing an EU framework for urban mobility to support cities in implementing sustainable urban mobility plans;
- Establishing a European mobility data space to facilitate data sharing and foster innovation;
- Strengthening passenger rights across all modes of transport;
- Enhancing transport safety and security through new standards and rules.
The Commission will start proposing the measures envisaged in 2021. It remains to be seen to what extent, with what modifications and how fast they will be adopted and then implemented by EU Member States, shaping transport transformation for the years to come.
The strategy also takes into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the transport sector and its recovery. The pandemic has shown the importance of safeguarding the well-functioning single market and the essential role of transport in ensuring the functioning of vital supply chains. The preservation of supply chains and a coordinated European approach to connectivity and transport activity are essential to overcome any crisis and strengthen the EU’s strategic autonomy and resilience. Therefore, ensuring that our transport system is truly resilient against future crises must also be a key objective of the EU’s transport policy going forward.
The strategy is not only about setting targets and measures, but also about creating opportunities and benefits for all. The transition to sustainable and smart mobility will require significant investments, innovation, skills development and social dialogue. The Commission estimates that achieving a 90% reduction in transport emissions by 2050 would require additional investments of around €130 billion per year between 2021 and 2030. These investments will be supported by various EU funding instruments, such as the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the Connecting Europe Facility, Horizon Europe, InvestEU and the Innovation Fund.
The transition will also create new jobs and business opportunities, especially in sectors such as renewable energy, battery production, vehicle manufacturing, digital services and infrastructure development. The Commission estimates that by 2030, the strategy could create up to 1.8 million additional jobs in the transport sector compared to a business-as-usual scenario. At the same time, the transition will require reskilling and upskilling of workers, as well as social protection measures for those who might be negatively affected by the changes. The Commission will work with social partners and stakeholders to ensure a fair and inclusive transition that leaves no one behind.
The strategy also aims to enhance the quality of life and well-being of EU citizens by improving their mobility options, reducing pollution and noise, increasing safety and security, and strengthening their rights as passengers and consumers. The strategy envisages that by 2030, all cities with more than 100 000 inhabitants should have established sustainable urban mobility plans that promote walking, cycling, public transport and shared mobility services. The strategy also proposes to revise the EU air quality standards to align them with the World Health Organization recommendations and to monitor noise levels more effectively.
The strategy also recognises the importance of international cooperation and leadership in shaping the global agenda on sustainable and smart mobility. The EU will continue to engage with its partners in multilateral fora, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), as well as through bilateral dialogues and agreements. The EU will also promote its standards and best practices in third countries, especially in its neighbourhood, and support them in their transition to low-carbon and digital mobility.
The strategy is a comprehensive and ambitious roadmap for transforming the EU transport system in line with the European Green Deal objectives. It sets out a vision for a mobility system that is fit for a clean, digital and modern economy. It also provides a framework for cooperation and coordination among all actors involved: EU institutions, Member States, regions, cities, businesses, workers and civil society. Together, they can make sustainable and smart mobility a reality for all.