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Improving the sustainability of passenger and freight transport

Transport has the highest reliance on fossil fuels of any sector and accounts for 37% of CO2 emissions from end‐use sectors. While it was one of the sectors most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, emissions are likely to resume rising as demands increases and the uptake of alternative fuels remains limited. That growth is most notable in developing and emerging economies. Getting transportation on track with the IEA's Sustainable Development Scenario requires implementing a broad set of policies, summed up as "Avoid, Shift, Improve," to encourage modal shifts to the least carbon-intensive travel options, and operational and technical energy efficiency measures to reduce the carbon intensity of all transport modes.

Key findings

Evolution of road passenger transport activity in selected countries in early 2020


Mobility fell by an unprecedented amount in the first half of 2020

As a consequence of global lockdown measures due to the Covid-19 crisis, mobility – 57% of global oil demand – declined at an unprecedented scale in early 2020. Road transport in regions with lockdowns in place dropped between 50% and 75%, with global average road transport activity almost falling to 50% of the 2019 level by the end of March 2020. Despite a rebound in 2021, global oil demand remained around 3% below 2019 levels. Air transport is expected to take even longer to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Transport sector CO2 emissions by mode in the Sustainable Development Scenario, 2000-2030


Emissions from transport continue to rise

CO2 emissions from the global transport sector fell by over 10% in 2020, at 7.2 Gt CO2 in 2020, down from nearly 8.5 Gt in 2019.

Transport demand in 2021 is rebounding, with demand for passenger and cargo transport expected to continue increasing rapidly. Even with anticipated growth in transport demand, the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario requires transport sector emissions to fall by 20% to 5.7 Gt by 2030. Achieving this drop would depend on policies to encourage modal shifts to the least carbon-intensive travel options, and operational and technical energy efficiency measures to reduce the carbon intensity of all transport modes.

In rail and road, stronger policies are needed to accelerate the establishment of infrastructure to support zero-emissions vehicles. Policies that promote the blending of true low-carbon fuels are critical to decarbonise aviation, shipping and heavy-duty road freight.

Global electric vehicle stock by region, 2010-2020


Electric vehicles have been growing around the world

Electric car deployment has been growing rapidly over the past ten years, with 16 million on the world's roads at the end of 2021. Electric car registrations powered through the pandemic, despite a worldwide downturn in overall car sales. In 2021, electric car sales more than doubled to reach 6.7 million, representing close to 9% of global car sales. But the environmental benefits were partly negated by a concurrent rise in SUV sales, and electric car sales are much smaller outside of Chine, Europe and North America. Other transport sectors, such as long-haul trucking, aviation and shipping are even harder to decarbonise, partly because many of the necessary technologies – such as high performance batteries and hydrogen – are not yet commercially available.
Our work

Created in 1990, the AFC TCP seeks to make a significant contribution to address the opportunities and barriers to fuel cell commercialisation by fostering the development of fuel cell technologies and their application on an international basis, and conveying key messages to policy makers and the wider community as appropriate.

Created in 1979, the AMT TCP focuses on materials critical to fuel efficiency improvement for current and future transportation technologies. The AMT TCP conducts co-operative research activities on friction reduction, waste heat recovery, and lightweighting of vehicles. The TCP work programme includes the development of standard test methods, testing, demonstration and design guidelines.

The mission of the AMF TCP is to advance the understanding and appreciation of the potential of advanced motor fuels towards transport sustainability. This is achieved by providing sound information and technology assessments designed to facilitate informed and science-based decisions regarding advanced motor fuels at all levels of decision-making.

The Combustion TCP provides a forum for interdisciplinary exchange and enables international collaborative research to advance the understanding of combustion processes to: accelerate the development of combustion technologies that demonstrate reduced fuel consumption and have lower pollutant emissions in transportation, power generation, industry and buildings, and; generate, compile and disseminate independent information, expertise and knowledge related to combustion for the research community, industry, policy makers and society.

In operation since 1993, the HEV TCP provides a forum for global co-operation on the development and deployment of electric vehicles. It supplies objective information to support decision making, functions as a facilitator for international collaboration in pre-competitive research and demonstration projects, fosters international exchange of information, and it can promote projects and programmes for research, development, demonstration and deployment.

The aim of the Bioenergy TCP is to increase knowledge and understanding of bioenergy systems in order to facilitate the commercialisation and market deployment of environmentally sound, socially acceptable, and cost-competitive, low-carbon bioenergy systems and technologies, and to advise policy and industrial decision makers accordingly.

The Hydrogen TCP, founded in 1977, works to accelerate hydrogen implementation and widespread utilisation in the areas of production, storage, distribution, power, heating, mobility and industry. The Hydrogen TCP seeks to optimise environmental protection, improve energy security, transform global energy systems and grid management, and promote international economic development, as well as serving as the premier global resource for expertise in all aspects of hydrogen technology.