To keep global warming below 1.5 degrees C, major action is needed to transform our transportation system.

Transport — including road, rail, sea and air travel — accounts for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. After industry, this sector is the world’s fastest growing source of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. 

Rather than rely on an ever-expanding array of fossil-fuel-powered transport, we need to shift to zero-carbon cars, trucks, ships and planes; improve the availability of clean, modern and affordable public transportation; and implement measures to reduce unnecessary trips and wasted fuel. 

In this system, the largest source of emissions by far is road transport. Here, replacing high-carbon, fossil fuel-powered cars with zero-carbon electric options is an important change that can help us reach our climate goals. 

Global GHG emissions from transport

This must be combined with actions that curtail the need to travel by bringing services and opportunities closer to the people who need them.

Where this isn’t possible, we can work to incentivize a shift to lower-carbon modes of transport, such as bus, train, walking and cycling.

Shipping and aviation are also growing sources of emissions. Advanced fuels and other solutions for decarbonizing these sectors are still in their infancy and will need a huge scale-up in terms of investment and policy.

The shift 5 shifts needed to transform the Transport system

Click each shift to explore more detail and learn about key actions driving progress.

Guarantee reliable access to safe and modern mobility

All people deserve access to safe transport and mobility options. It is important that the transition of the world’s energy systems to decarbonized travel modes is accomplished equitably in a way that provides opportunity for everyone.

Reduce avoidable vehicle and air travel

The most cost-effective means of reducing transport emissions is to avoid the need for motorized travel, utilizing city planning to bring opportunities closer to residents and encouraging less carbon-intensive modes of movement, such as public transport, walking and cycling.

Shift to public, shared and non-motorized transport

Achieving a sustainable, low-carbon transport system will require a comprehensive approach: avoiding unnecessary trips, shifting travel to more sustainable modes, improving transport technology and increasing access to jobs and opportunities.

Transition to zero-carbon cars and trucks

Global greenhouse gas emissions from passenger cars, trucks and buses made up almost three-quarters of total transport emissions in 2020, underlining the importance of a rapid transition away from fossil-fuel-powered vehicles.

Transition to zero-carbon shipping and aviation

Although both shipping and aviation are seen as “hard-to-decarbonize,” both sectors have pathways to a greener future. Decarbonizing shipping and aviation will require a combination of technological solutions, such as zero-emission fuels and batteries, alongside operational and efficiency improvements.

Progress toward targets

Systems Change Lab has identified indicators to track progress toward targets. Hover over a chart and click to explore the data.