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Environmental impact of transportation on Europe: view of science and industry

This article is part of a Special Issue highlighting sessions held at ESOF 2018 Toulouse (9-14 July 2018) and proposed by the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) members.

Attend this session on 10th July at 08:45.


Climate change is a reality and an issue of increasing concern nowadays, and it is expected to become a more important problem in the near future. One of the main causes of climate change is the human-caused environmental impact, especially in developed countries like those in Europe or North America. Whereas this is an issue that affects all the population, governmental intervention is necessary, such as with projects embedded in European frameworks like “Horizon 2020” among others, in order to motivate the industry and accelerate positive changes towards greener solutions. A large part of the current research projects in European universities is strongly related to limit the environmental impact of current industry or to reduce the effect of the actions taken in the past.

More than 90% of the world population is breathing in polluted air [1]. And transport accounts for 26% of global CO2 emissions [2] and it is one of the few industrial sectors where pollutant emissions are still growing. European companies like Volvo [3] and Airbus [4] are determined to develop new ways to reduce the footprint of transportation, in means of climate impact, as well as pollutants and noise emissions. Some countries are implementing effective regulations to change the mobility sector towards the use of renewable resources. The Netherlands and Norway, for example, plan to ban the introduction of road vehicles using fossil fuels by 2025 [5,6]; and Norway also aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from local shipping by 40% in 2030 compared to 1990 [7]. Automated cars may reduce greenhouse emission by 60%, as reported by McKinsey & Company [8].

Transport sectors such as aviation experience a constant growth in their traffic (around 5% every year), motivated partially by the considerably reduced cost of the average airplane ticket. However, the CO2 footprint of an average airplane is about 20 times larger that of a modern train [9]. Therefore, simple decisions made by individual citizens, such as how to travel during vacations, can have a considerable influence in the environmental impact.

Apart from technological solutions, there are approaches to lower the demand for emission-intensive transportation. As an example, a Swiss retailer removed fresh green asparagus from overseas from its shelves, because due to air transport they have about 15 times higher climate impacts than local asparagus [10]. Cargo bicycles for the last-mile deliveries are becoming popular in Germany, where 21,000 electrically assisted cargo bicycles were sold in 2017 [11]. Additionally, a lot of effort is put into development of delivery bots, which should reduce the impact on the environment even further [12]. A large part of modern research in urban mobility is focusing on the flying taxi concept [13,14] which could allow for faster commuting and considerably reduce the pollutant emissions if electric propulsion systems are considered. On the other hand, safety and noise emissions might become challenging issues if the amount of flying taxis increase rapidly.

In order to bring industry and academia together, this session aims at combining the views and opinions of experts from the European industry (SBB, Swiss Federal Railways) and universities and research institutes (Delft University of Technology and ETH Zurich).

Pavlo Bazilinskyy, Roberto Merino Martinez and Claudio Beretta


  1. WHO. (2018). WHO Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database. Available at:
  2. Chapman, L. (2007). Transport and climate change: a review. Journal of transport geography, 15(5), 354-367.
  3. Volvo Cars. (2017). Volvo Cars to go all electric. Available at:
  4. Airbus. (2017). Climate action. Available at:
  5. Staufenberg, J. (2017). Norway to ‘completely ban petrol powered cars by 2025’. Available at:
  6. Staufenberg, J. (2017). Netherlands on brink of banning sale of petrol-fuelled cars. Available at:
  7. Criscione, V. (2017). Norway’s Greener Future Fleet. Available at:
  8. McKinsey & Company. (2015). Ten ways autonomous driving could redefine the automotive world. Available at:
  9. Schuttenhelm R. (2016). Holiday plans – Plane or Train? Planes are about 20 times as bad for the climate – per kilometre. Available at:
  10. Zhiyenbek A., Beretta C., Stoessel F., Hellweg S. (2017). Ökobilanzierung Früchte- und Gemüseproduktion – eine Entscheidungsunterstützung für ökologisches Einkaufen. ETH Zürich, Institut für Umweltingenieurwissenschaften, John-von-Neumann-Weg 9, 8093 Zürich.
  11. The Local. (2018). Pedal power: the rise and rise of cargo bikes in Germany. Available at:
  12. Frost & Sullivan. (2018). The Future of Last-mile Delivery Bots. Available at:
  13. Lilium (2018) – Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing Jet. Available at:
  14. Hawkings (2017) – Uber’s ‘flying cars’ could arrive in LA by 2020 — and here’s what it’ll be like to ride one. Available at:

Go back to the Special Issue: ESOF 2018

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