UK: Europe Signals Transformational Change: Transport 2050

Last Updated: 8 April 2011
Article by Paul Sheridan and Valentina Keys

On 28th March 2011 the European Commission (the "Commission") launched its white paper on transport - the "Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system" (the "Roadmap").

The Roadmap outlines 40 initiatives from the Commission all aimed at reducing Europe's dependence on imported oil and cutting 60 % of carbon emissions in transport by 2050. Investment in energy efficiency, appropriate charging and fuelling infrastructure, cleantech and increased use of information technology systems are some of the key measures and actions which are proposed.

2050 low carbon economy vision

The launch of the Roadmap coincides with the Commission's recently published communication entitled "Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050" (see our lawnow). In this paper the Commission outlined key cost-effective measures to help achieve an overall 80% green house gas emissions reduction by 2050. To achieve this the Commission believes that  there must be a  reduction of at least 60% of  transport emissions by 2050 with an interim reduction of 20% by 2030. Set out below are some of the initiatives which are expected to have the greatest impact on the future of transport  in Europe. 

Phase out of conventionally fuelled vehicles in cities

One of the most controversial aspects in that the Roadmap calls for a 50% cut in the use of 'conventionally-fuelled' cars (ie. the internal combustion engine) in cities by 2030 and complete phase out in cities by 2050. Conventionally fuelled road transport is expected to be gradually replaced with electric, hydrogen and hybrid powered vehicles. Investment in fuelling and charging infrastructure for the new forms of vehicles will be key.

New transport patterns

The Commission makes clear that Europe needs a 'core network' of corridors, carrying large and consolidated volumes of freight and passengers traffic with high efficiency and low emissions. This, the Commission believes, can be achieved through a more extensive use of more efficient modes in multimodal combinations and the wide application of advanced technologies and supply infrastructure for clean fuels. The Commission aims to establish, with appropriate ICT, a fully functional EU-wide multimodal trans-European transport 'core network' by 2030 with a high quality and capacity network by 2050. Advanced logistic and market measures such as full development of an integrated European railway market, removal of restrictions on cabotage, abolition of barriers to short sea shipping, removal of distortions in taxation are listed as some of the measures that are to be applied in creating new transport patterns  The Commission is  also  looking for better modal choices and greater integration of modal networks (airports, ports, railways, metros and bus stations).

Technology and energy efficiency

According to the Commission the EU transport sector depends on oil and oil products for 96% of its energy needs. The Roadmap suggests that faster and cheaper transition to a more efficient and sustainable European transport system requires action on three main factors: (1) vehicles' efficiency through new engines, materials and design; (2) cleaner energy use through new fuels and propulsion systems; (3) better use of the 'core network' and ICT.


Substantial investment in new infrastructure will be needed to shift 30% of road freight travelling over 300km to other modes such as rail and water by 2030, and 50% by 2050. In addition, the Commission calls for improved truck efficiency via the development and uptake of new engines, cleaner fuels, and greater use of intelligent transport systems. The Roadmap calls for seaports to be developed to improve freight logistics. Inland waterways are expected to play a greater role.


The Commission stressed the importance of expanding and upgrading the capacity of the EU rail network so that there is a Europe-wide high-speed rail network by 2050. The length of the existing high-speed rail network is to be tripled by 2030. By 2050 the majority of medium-distance passenger transport is expected to go by rail. The Commission also calls for increased investment in new rolling stock.

Aviation  and maritime

The Commission expects the aviation industry to become the frontrunner in the utilisation of low-carbon fuels. Aviation is expected to use 40% of low carbon fuels by 2050. Shipping is expected to cut maritime transport CO2 emissions by 40%-50% by 2050.

Internalisation of externalities

The Commission stresses the importance of internalising the cost of externalities such as noise, air pollution, congestion and climate change through increase in charging for the use of infrastructure. The Commission's recent proposal to amend the 'Eurovignette Directive' represents a first step towards a higher degree of internalisation of costs generated by movement of heavy goods vehicles. The restructuring of transport charges and taxes in the direction of wider application of the 'polluter-pays' and 'user-pays' principles are to be reviewed.

Mobility Continuity Plans

Following the ash cloud crisis and the experience of extreme weather events, the Commission is proposing to develop Mobility Continuity Plans combining scenario development and disaster planning to help preserve the mobility of passengers and goods in a crisis situation.  The Commission accepts that curbing mobility is not an option. 


Over the last few decades there have been numerous calls for better forms of transport, better connections between different modes of transport and generally a desire to look at transport with a more long term and sustainable perspective. This time round transport is being subjected to drivers that played very much smaller roles previously. Transport is also being caught up in a much wider drive for an EU economic transformation to a low carbon – high efficiency economy. To this extent, on the one hand huge vested interests will be challenged and on the other hand huge investment opportunities will be  presented. The Commission is clearly ambitious.  It wants to secure lasting change in the way Europe does business. Best to hold on as the Commission is likely to be very busy publishing papers, consulting and being lobbied, drafting legislation etc. over the coming few years.

To view the Roadmap click here

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 05/04/2011.

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