Transport and the environment

Transport and the environment

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Transport and the environment


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Transport > Transport energy and the environment

Transport and the environment

Document or Iniciative

Council report of 6 October 1999 to the European Council of Helsinki on the strategy on the integration of environment and sustainable development into transport policy.


This Council strategy defines the objectives of action by the European Union (EU) and the Member States to minimise the environmental impact of transport. It aims to ensure that environmental questions are taken into account when drawing up and implementing transport policy in the sectors concerned.

The strategy recognises the positive results of certain measures already taken at EU level, but underlines that further progress is required in the following areas:

  • avoidance and/or elimination of the negative effects of traffic growth, particularly through land use measures and infrastructure charging;
  • promotion of public transport, inter modal and combined transport and environmentally less harmful modes (e.g. railways and inland waterway);
  • further research and technological development, in particular to reduce CO2 emissions and noise;
  • raising of awareness among the public, vehicle drivers and the industry of how to reduce the environmental impact of transport, e.g. through indicators and vehicle standardisation.

The strategy calls on Member States to take these measures at national level and within the framework of international organisations. The Commission is invited to gather and disseminate information (including indicators) in these areas, present proposals on pricing and emission standards and encourage the transport sector in various ways.

A number of measures preceded and followed this strategy in various transport sectors: road, rail, maritime and air transport.

Infrastructure charging

It is possible to make users bear certain environmental costs resulting from their use of transport, particularly where they use transport infrastructures (“polluter pays” principle). This taking account of external environmental costs in infrastructure charging is authorised by two sectoral Directives. There is, however, no common legislative framework for all transport modes that would propose a common methodology and timetable in order to avoid distortions of competition.

As regards the transport of goods by road, Directive 1999/62/EC provides a common framework for fixing user charges for motorway infrastructures or those with similar characteristics. The Directive does not provide for charging for environmental costs in addition to the infrastructure cost per se. It does however allow charges to be varied to take account of levels of pollution from heavy goods vehicles and the time of day. The proposed revision of this Directive will be adopted soon and will allow Member States to apply tolls and user charges on all other roads. The principal changes are as follows:

  • application of the Directive to vehicles over 3.5 tonnes from 2012, where currently it applies only to vehicles over 12 tonnes;
  • greater scope for varying tolls on the basis of environmental criteria (to encourage the use of cleaner vehicles) and time of day (to discourage traffic during peak hours and thus reduce jams);
  • variation of tolls on the basis of vehicle emission classes will be compulsory after 2010, with possible derogations;
  • possibility of introducing a increased toll on certain trans-European corridors in mountain areas to allow cross-financing of alternative transport infrastructures.

For rail transport, Directive 2001/14/EC allows the variation of charges on the basis of revenue neutrality but does not make it compulsory to charge for environmental costs in addition to infrastructure costs and these are not charged to the railway operators. Few infrastructure managers apply such variation in practice.

Proposals concerning charging for port and airport infrastructures, as well as a framework communication, are contained in the Commission work programme for 2006.

Road transport

The adoption since 1970 of a number of Directives relating to emissions from motor vehicles, whether light vehicles (cars, light commercial vehicles) or heavy vehicles (lorries, buses) has had the effect of gradually reducing emissions of gases and particles as well as, to some extent, the noise from the vehicles used. The reductions in atmospheric emissions laid down by EURO I to V concern four main pollutants: carbon monoxide (CO), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), particles and hydrocarbons.

As regards CO2, the Community objective is to achieve an average emission level from new vehicles of 120 g CO2/km. Europe has a three-pronged approach in this connection:

  • voluntary commitments by the automobile industry under which European (ACEA), Japanese (JAMA) and Korean (KAMA) car makers have undertaken to reduce average emissions from new vehicles by 25% between 1995 and 2008-2009 (from 186 g CO2/km in 1995 to 140 g CO2/km in 2008-2009). Compliance with these commitments is the subject of annual reports by the Commission;
  • better information for consumers on fuel consumption and CO2 emissions;
  • introduction of fiscal measures to promote the purchase of less polluting vehicles.

Moreover, the standards relating to transport fuel quality have been significantly improved, in particular as regards their sulphur content. The EU has also established an indicative percentage of biofuels to replace diesel or petrol for transport purposes in each Member State (2% in 2005 and 5.75% in 2010).

Directive 1999/30/EC lays down limit values for NOx, SO2, particles and lead and alert thresholds for SO2 and NOx in ambient air. Member States must ensure that up-to-date information on the concentrations of these substances is regularly made available to the public. The limit values for NOx were due to be reached in 2001, those concerning SO2 and the EU10 in 2005 and those concerning NO2 and lead in 2010.

Non-road land transport

Polluting emissions from railway transport are regulated by the Directive on non-road mobile machinery.

Under Directive 96/48/EC on the interoperability of the trans-European high-speed rail system, the technical specifications for interoperability (TSI) on high-speed rolling stock lay down noise limits. Following its amendment in 2004, Directive 2001/16/EC does the same for the trans-European conventional rail system.

Maritime and inland waterway transport

The EU has adopted a strategy to reduce the atmospheric emissions of seagoing ships. It has also put in place a raft of measures on maritime safety in order to prevent further ecological disasters like the Erika or Prestige. These measures concern among other things the prevention of pollution caused by ships, mechanisms for cooperation in the event of marine pollution and the possibility of criminal sanctions against those responsible for marine pollution.

Polluting emissions from inland waterway vessels are regulated by the Directive on non-road mobile machinery.

Air transport

In a communication on air transport and the environment, the Commission identified the pillars of a strategy for incorporating environmental concerns in air transport policy: improving technical environmental standards relating to noise and atmospheric emissions; strengthening economic incentives; helping airports in their environmental efforts; promoting research and development in the long term.

As regards noise, the EU has adopted rules on noise management in Community airports. These rules are based in particular on decisions taken within the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). They include a ban on access to European airports for the noisiest aircraft and aircraft construction standards.

In its communication on aviation and climate change, the Commission weighs up the options for reducing the impact of the aviation sector on climate change. Apart from pursuing the possibilities available in relation to research, air traffic management and energy taxation, it also proposes to incorporate the air transport sector into the Community greenhouse gas emissions trading system.

Transport and noise

Under Directive 2002/49/EC, Member States have to map ambient noise levels from major transport infrastructures and urban transport in agglomerations. They must also draw up ambient noise management plans aimed at reducing harmful exposure and protecting quiet areas. Community legislation does not define limit values for ambient noise and leaves Member States and the competent authorities in question to decide how to protect against noise.


The growth in vehicle numbers and use is a threat to the environment and the health of European citizens.

The European Environment Agency measures, analyses and, under the TERM (Transport & Environment Reporting Mechanism), regularly reports on the environmental impact of transport. The Agency underlines the risks of the EU failing to meet its commitments under the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The thematic strategy on atmospheric pollution fixes targets for the reduction of certain pollutants and reinforces the legislative framework to combat atmospheric pollution using a two-pronged approach: improving Community environmental legislation and including air quality considerations in related policies. As provided for in the strategy, the Commission has proposed a new “EURO V” standard to reduce polluting emissions from light motor vehicles and in particular reduce emissions from vehicles with diesel engines by 80%. The strategy also envisages a number of measures to reduce emissions of SO2 and NOx from ships (these emissions are forecast to exceed emissions from land sources by 2020).

The proposal for a Directive on energy end use efficiency and energy services underlines the important role of fuels and the transport sector in relation to energy efficiency and energy saving. It lays down a number of measures to this end.

The thematic strategy on the urban environment underlines the need to introduce plans for the sustainable urban transport of persons and goods, including environmental requirements, and linked to policies on optimum land use. It announces the distribution by the Commission of a practical guide for urban authorities to help them introduce such plans and disseminate good practice.

The formulation of this strategy was requested by the Vienna European Council (December 1998). There were calls for other strategies in the various sectors of Community action at that European Council and the Cologne European Council (June 1999). The European Council in Cardiff (June 1998) laid the foundations for coordinated action at Community level on the integration of environmental requirements in European Union policies.

Related Acts

Decision No 1753/2000/EC

of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 June 2000 establishing a scheme to monitor the average specific emissions of CO2 from new passenger cars [Official Journal L 202, 10.8.2000].

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, of 31 March 1998, on Transport and CO2: developing a Community approach [

COM(98) 204

– Not published in the Official Journal].

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *