Navigating the Road to a Sustainable Mobility

Get moving for our future!

Since the beginning of time, humans have needed to move for different reasons, such as getting food, discovering the world, shipping goods, meeting people or exercising. Today's society relies on travelling longer distances, faster and more often to wherever and however people want. A big part of transports run by fossil fuels and depend on the construction of long infrastructures, which have been causing many environmental and health issues, like greenhouse gas emissions, noise pollution, habitat fragmentation or road fatalities. The transition to a more sustainable mobility is more urgent than ever and has started in the European Union with ambitious goals and outlined comprehensive plans by 2030.

But what kind of transportation is more sustainable? Is it possible to travel in an economic but also low emission way? How can I get to places daily in a comfortable way?

There are different solutions and evolving challenges around the issue. This blog post will give you some answers but mainly make you think about the road to take towards a greener mobility


History of transportation

The evolution of  transportation spans human history, starting with walking and animal use and later the invention of the wheel around 3500 BC. Boats and ships revolutionised water transportation, while the industrial revolution introduced steam-powered trains and automobiles. The Wright brothers' flight in 1903 marked the beginning of aviation, followed by the rise of commercial jet travel.



Transports have connected people, cultures, cities, countries and continents. It has been one of the main pillars of modern societies and economies, allowing producers to sell their products across the world and travellers to discover new places, contributing to a better quality of life. Connecting to transport helps to boost the economy in remote areas, creating jobs and spreading wealth.


The increase in fossil-fuelled transport has, on the one hand, made the world a smaller place and travel more accessible, but on the other hand, it has been affecting our health and the environment. Recent decades have seen the development of electric and efficient vehicles and routes, promising a more sustainable future.

Types of transportation and their impacts

Like every human activity, the transports have impacts on the environment. One way to evaluate those impacts is by calculating the greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions released by transports. To simplify that, a scale was developed, the grammes of CO2-equivalent emission (gCO2-e) (IPCC, 2022). This measure allows us to understand the average emissions of vehicles by having in count all the different GHG emitted and each gas global warming potential (GWP) (IPCC, 2022).

For instance, aeroplanes have the highest GHG emissions (160g CO2 per pkm), but cars aren’t that good either (143 g CO2 per pkm), probably because, on average, cars are driven with 1,6 passengers on board, which requires a bigger number of trips and cars used for the same amount of people (see figure 1).

Figure 1: Grammes of CO2-equivalent emissions by motorised mode of passenger transport, between 2014-2018 from EEA, 2021. pkm = passenger kilometre; implied car occupancy rate: 1.6


Maybe next time you think about taking the car to get somewhere, you could consider giving or asking for a lift to make your journeys more efficient and less impactful?


Although carbon emissions from buses and coaches were higher than those from ships and boats (see figure 1), these are not the only ways in which these modes of transport can affect the environment. In this section you’ll be able to learn more about the different effects of each main transport on our health and the ecosystems.

Road Transport

In the bustling landscape of European travel, the road is the “undisputed king”, with cars clocking in at a staggering 79.7% of passenger-kilometres in 2021 (Eurostat, 2023). Millions of vehicles cross Europe's extensive road network, carrying people and goods. But, despite a growing embrace of electric vehicles, the majority still run on petrol and diesel, spewing air pollutants and contributing to climate change  (EEA, 2023a).


Road transport shoulders a hefty environmental burden, accounting for a quarter of the European Union (EU)'s greenhouse gas emissions, with a resounding 77% originating from road vehicles in 2020. The roads echo not just with engines but also with the often-overlooked toll of noise pollution, affecting those living close to major thoroughfares. As congestion grows and road networks expand, biodiversity suffers, with natural areas shrinking and wildlife losing vital migration pathways (EEA, 2023a).


Road transport challenges

In the EU, 2022 witnessed a surge in electric vehicle adoption,  2021 saw a decrease (compared to 2011) from 9.0% to 7.1% of the use of public transportation like coaches, buses and trolley buses (EEA, 2023; Eurostat, 2023).


Something to think about:
Switching from fossil-fuelled cars to electric cars is the number one solution to a greener road mobility? Find out more about the impact of electric cars on the following links

Air Transport

Soaring through the skies, air transport has become the lifeline of European travel, with a staggering number of 820 million passengers taking flight in the EU, marking a remarkable 119.3% surge in 2021 (EASA, 2022). While the allure of the skies is undeniable, it comes at an environmental cost. The aviation sector's annual contribution of 2.5% to global CO2 emissions is just the tip of the iceberg. Alongside carbon emissions, it unleashes a barrage of non-CO2 pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and unburnt hydrocarbons (EASA, 2022).


Moreover, the roar of engines leaves communities near airports grappling with noise pollution, causing stress, sleep disturbance, and even adverse health effects like heart disease. As we revel in the convenience of air travel, it's crucial to fly with awareness, acknowledging the impact on our environment and the communities below.


Maritime & Inland Waterways

Navigating the expansive blue “highways”, maritime and inland waterways transport emerge as the unsung heroes of European trade, facilitating a staggering 77% of external trade and 35% of inter-EU trade by value (EEA, 2023b). These aquatic arteries are the lifeblood of the international supply chain, propelling the European economy forward.


Yet, beneath the waves, a tale of environmental impact unfolds. Ships, while connecting nations, are responsible for releasing 13.5 % of all greenhouse gas emissions from transport in the EU and emit air pollutants like sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, leaving an indelible mark on the climate and the well-being of EU citizens (EEA, 2023b). The echo of underwater noise from the engines and sonars and the spectre of non-indigenous species hitchhiking along the waterways add further problems to marine wildlife.


As we sail into the future, it's essential to chart a course that balances the vital role of waterborne trade with a commitment to preserving our oceans and ecosystems.



Rail Transport

Embarking on the rails in Europe isn't just a journey, it's a green revolution on tracks. Trains emerge as the most eco-friendly way to travel longer distances, boosting a mere 33gCO2 per passenger-kilometre, a fraction of the carbon footprint left by flights or cars (EEA, 2018). The real green magic lies in the electrification of railways, with 60% of the European rail network already humming with electricity (European Alternative Fuels Observatory, n.d.).


However, the source of this power becomes pivotal, the trains are truly sustainable when the electricity they require comes from renewable energy, which depends on the country you live in or travel to. The environmental charm of trains faces a ticket price hurdle, with a recent study revealing that, on average, rail tickets are twice as expensive as their airborne counterparts, discouraging families and travellers from making the shift from air to rail (T&E, n.d.).


Yet, the tracks beckon as a pathway to a greener future, with the potential for further electrification and a meticulous consideration of carbon reductions.




Active Mobility

In the bustling heart of Europe, a revolution is underway – a shift towards active mobility, which is not just good for our health but is the key to unlocking the continent's long-term sustainability goals. Walking and cycling, especially for short city journeys, emerge as the superheroes of urban mobility, weaving a tapestry of benefits for both humans and the environment.


However, this green transition is not without its challenges. The lack of rules for parking shared vehicles poses a puzzle, and for those with personal vehicles, the looming risk of theft adds a dash of uncertainty. Enter app-based vehicle sharing schemes, heralding convenience but also stirring debates about their environmental impact. Take e-scooter sharing, for instance – a trend that, while attracting users away from walking or public transport, raises eyebrows with its hidden ecological costs. Beyond the eco-friendly appearance lie concerns about materials, manufacturing, and the frequent recharging cycles.

Something to think about:

Is it eco-friendly to take an e-scooter to do small distances in the city?


Europe's Plan for a Greener Ride

Embarking on a journey toward a sustainable tomorrow, the EU’s strategy unfolds a roadmap with chronological milestones. For example, by 2030, urban landscapes with a 50% reduction in conventionally-fueled cars and city logistics will promote the use of active mobility (Eurostat, 2020).


As the time flies into 2050, skies will be greener, with a target of 40% use of low-carbon sustainable fuels in aviation. Sailing alongside, ships pledge to slash EU’s CO2 emissions from maritime bunker fuels by an impressive 40%. Railways become the heartbeat of inter-city travel, with a goal for a majority share of passengers, while freight journeys over 300 km shift gears, leaving roads behind in a 50% transition. It's not just about being eco-savvy; this strategy promises safer roads with zero fatalities by the mid-century (Eurostat, 2020).


The countdown has begun – a journey where sustainability meets speed, and the planet emerges as the ultimate winner!


Let’s explore more!

Is your city or town prepared for active mobility? 🤔

What are the strategies of your municipality to reduce the impacts of public transport? 🤔


How can we move towards change?

We’ve seen until now that there are many ways we can move and travel, but it's in our hands to choose the ones that suit us better. Where do I want to go? What are the mains available in my city or country? Which transports can I afford? Are they really eco-friendly?

These are all questions you can ask when planning a trip or a smaller journey.  Here we give some ideas for you to think about:



For short distances

👉 Choose active mobility means, like ride the bike or walk, even combined with public transports;

👉 Do plogging regularly, the latest trend that allows you to take care of your well being by exercising, as well as the health of the Planet by picking up garbage from the streets and send it for recycling;

For medium distances

👉 Buses, coaches and trains are often the most sustainable and economic option, although they aren't always available everywhere;

👉 Consider car sharing with coworkers or even strangers to work (perhaps you’ll make new friends!);

For long distances

👉 A shift from air to rail it’s the best way to reduce your travelling footprint in a longer trip. For example, interrails along European countries are a good way to discover new places that are not too mainstream and have an adventure with friends or by yourself in an economic way.

👉 For a road trip around the country consider renting an electric car.


Developing Green Skills and Knowledge

Along this post you’ve been learning how the different options of transport can affect the environment and human health. All this information may help you in some decision making, but can also make you think, what is the best solution on my daily bases trips? There is no universal response to this question, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to make better choices everyday to reduce your travelling footprint. At the same time you can develop more skills and learn more about, for example:

  • Riding and maintaining a bike
  • Participating in local movements of sustainable mobility
  • Promoting bike tours in green spaces in social gatherings
  • Learning to organise and plan trips in a sustainable and economical way.




Try this quiz to see how much you know about Green Mobility!



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