Potential Solutions For Reducing Greenhouse Gas & Carbon Emissions In The Transport Sector

Transport is one of the top emitting sectors globally, and within many major (developed) countries.

In this guide, we look at potential solutions for reducing emissions in the transport industry.


Summary – Solutions For Reducing Transport Sector Emissions

Emissions in the transport (and shipping) sector globally mainly come from road based transport (for private citizens), but also for the transport of goods – also known as freight transport

Passenger cars and trucks made up 17% of the US’s total GHG emissions in 2016

And, passenger cars and light-duty trucks, including sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and minivans account for over half of transport sector emissions in the US (epa.gov)

But, water transport (ships, boats), and air transport (planes), and public transport (trains, buses) also make up a portion of GHG emissions in the transport sector

In Canada, passenger transportation contributes 54% to total emissions, freight emissions are 41% of total and off-road is 5% (nrcan.gc.ca) 

The combustion of petroleum-based products, like gasoline, in internal combustion engines is the cause of most of the emissions

So, the logical main solution might be to transition to cleaner/alternative vehicle fuels – electric and hybrid cars are some of the most popular options (but hydrogen and other alternate vehicle and fuel systems are being developed)

Fuel type, fuel efficiency and fuel performance matters

Hybrid cars right now seem to be working well in terms of reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases per distance travelled – the most fuel efficient hybrid models are probably the most eco friendly passenger car on the market in the short to medium term

However, electric cars in particular have faced many challenges across all countries since their introduction

In general, electric cars might be better in the long term – but maybe not until the cities using them have lower carbon electricity grids

If we use China as one example, they intend on having 5 million electric cars on the road by 2020, but the problems with that are that China’s energy grid is still mostly run on coal, and some sources state that both electric cars and traditional cars in China have similar CO2 emissions and PM2.5 levels per kilometer driven

You can read more about China’s challenge in transitioning from coal to cleaner forms of energy in this guide

What actually might be a better solution than transitioning to electric vehicles is cutting down on the total number of individual vehicles on the road, the total number of miles travelled, and using modes of transport that have a lower per passenger emission rate

Both these approaches can help cut down on total consumption in the transport sector – which might be the best approach for reducing emissions in cities

Simply switching to electric vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles may not provide the reduction in emissions that cutting overall consumption might

Public transport and mass transit options like trains and trams might be one way to decrease the number of vehicles on the road and improve per passenger emission rates (and ultimately cut consumption rates)

We’ve written a guide about which mode of transport produces the most emissions here.

Further information about the different transport options and their emissions compared to each other can be found in this guide with some summary points.

Looking at carbon footprint at the manufacturing stage of vehicles is also worth it, despite most emissions coming from the operation stage


*Note – every country has a different greenhouse gas emission profile (because their industries are all different sizes, and they might have different production processes to each other). The above are potential general solutions, but, a greenhouse gas solution plan should be put together for each individual country, and even state/province, or city. China and the US are of particular significance as they are currently the two biggest annual emitters of GHGs in total


Greenhouse Gas Emissions By Industry, & In The Transport Sector

Read more in this guide about the industries that emit the most greenhouse gases and CO2 – both globally, and in individual countries.

As one excerpt … 

In 2010, the total global greenhouse gas emissions by sector globally, measured in gigagrams of carbon-dioxide equivalents (CO₂e), were:

  • Total – 50.58 million
  • Energy – 23.24 million
  • Land Use Sources – 5.54 million
  • Transport – 5.54 million
  • Agriculture – 5.08 million
  • Commercial & Residential – 3.74 million
  • Industry – 3.47 million
  • Waste – 1.45 million
  • Forestry – 1.18 million
  • International Bunkers – 1.08 million
  • Other Sources – 267,609.41 thousand

– ourworldindata.org

But, as mentioned, each country has a different emissions share by sector, so look at individual country greenhouse gas numbers too (and not just the numbers of one country, or global numbers). Also, note that different sectors emit different types of GHGs in different quantities (e.g. methane from agriculture needs to be considered).


Potential Solutions For Reducing Greenhouse Gas & CO2 Emissions In The Transport Industry

EPA.gov outlines some of the following solutions (paraphrased):

  • Switching Fuels [and vehicle type to alternative vehicle types] – … Alternative [fuel] sources can include biofuels; hydrogen; electricity from renewable sources, such as wind and solar; or fossil fuels that are less CO2-intensive than the fuels that they replace. [Fuel switching can happen in both public transport vehicles and personal vehicles]
  • Improving Fuel Efficiency – Using advanced technologies, design, and materials to develop more fuel-efficient vehicles. [For example – using Electric vehicles, using regenerative braking, reducing vehicle material weight, increasing aerodynamic design of vehicles etc.]
  • Improving Operating Practices – Adopting practices that minimize fuel use. Improving driving practices and vehicle maintenance. Reducing emissions from the freight industry. [Examples are reducing taxi time for aircrafts, designing cities and urban areas for efficient car use, and coming up with ways to decrease idling, breaking, accelerating and total travel time for all vehicles – cars, trucks, aircrafts, ships etc.]
  • Reducing Total Travel Demand – Reducing the number of miles travelled by vehicles, and introducing commuter, biking, and pedestrian programs. [Examples are building new infrastructure that reduces travel demand and makes it more efficient, and zoning for different types of travel uses]


c2es.org echoes similar options outlined by EPA. One other point they make is you can save on your aircraft emissions by choosing direct flights where possible instead of connector flights.


  • The most important thing is to introduce renewable energy in the transport sector [to power electric battery vehicles for example] and have the sector integrated in the energy system.
  • [Private cars, vans and trucks, international shipping and aircrafts need to be assessed] 

– sciencedaily.com


Addressing legislation, regulations and possible tax schemes when it comes to transport are areas that can be looked at. For example:

  • The EU has set internal targets and put policies in place for a emissions trading system, binding standards for new engines, rules for fuel quality and promotion of alternative fuels.
  • Worldwide, the imperative to reduce emissions has led many countries and cities to adopt their own legislation or put concrete measures in place, some of which are being shared, adapted and replicated.

– epthinktank.eu


  • Providing information about fuel efficiency or about how green a certain car is (in terms of emissions rating) to buyers can be an important part of lowering emissions from transport.
  • Fuel quality can also play a role

– ec.europa.eu


  • Offsetting carbon and emissions from your transport can be a good way to minimise the impact of the GHGs emissions

– greenfleet.com.au 


Emissions Breakdown, & Emission Trends In The Transport Industry

It’s important to know information such as the prevalent greenhouse gas, exactly where emissions are coming from (the source) , and trends over time in a sector.


In the US:

  • The majority of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions resulting from the combustion of petroleum-based products, like gasoline, in internal combustion engines.
  • The largest sources of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions include passenger cars and light-duty trucks, including sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and minivans. These sources account for over half of the emissions from the transportation sector.

Read more at https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions#transportation 


Also in the US

  • Transportation is now the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States
  • Modern transportation relies heavily on petroleum, and passenger cars and light-duty trucks (i.e. sport vehicles, pickup trucks and minivans) contribute half of the carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. transportation sector.
  • Burning one gallon of gasoline creates about 20 pounds of CO2—which means the average vehicle creates roughly 6 to 9 tons of CO2 each year.

– c2es.org


In Europe:

  • Road transport contributes about one-fifth of the EU’s total emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas.
  • While these emissions fell by 3.3% in 2012, they are still 20.5% higher than in 1990.
  • Transport is the only major sector in the EU where greenhouse gas emissions are still rising.
  • Light-duty vehicles – cars and vans – produce around 15% of the EU’s emissions of CO2.
  • Heavy-duty vehicles – trucks and buses – are responsible for about a quarter of CO2 emissions from road transport in the EU and for some 6% of total EU emissions.

– ec.europa.eu


  • In Australia 
  • Every litre of unleaded petrol consumed generates around 2.5kg* of greenhouse gas (measured in CO2-e or carbon dioxide equivalent), one litre of diesel fuel generates about 2.9kg* CO2-e and LPG 1.7kg* CO2-e.

– greenfleet.com.au


In Canada:

  • Passenger transportation contributes 54% to total emissions, freight emissions are 41% of total and off-road is 5%.

You can view information on other Canadian transport emission stats, and electric vehicles, at https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/facts/energy-ghgs/20063 



1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/industries-sectors-that-emit-the-most-greenhouse-gases-carbon-dioxide/

2. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions

3. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions#transportation 

4. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090727080836.htm 

5. https://www.c2es.org/content/reducing-your-transportation-footprint/ 

6. https://epthinktank.eu/2015/10/22/reducing-co2-emissions-from-transport/ 

7. https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/transport/vehicles_en

8. https://greenfleet.com.au/Individuals/Reduce-Emissions/Transport 

9. https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/facts/energy-ghgs/20063 

10. https://ourworldindata.org/how-much-will-it-cost-to-mitigate-climate-change

11. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/summary-greenhouse-gas-emissions-in-china-past-present-future/

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