Road transport contributes about one-fifth of the EU's total emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas. CO2 emissions from road transport increased by nearly 23% between 1990 and 2010, and without the economic downturn growth could have been even bigger. Transport is the only major sector in the EU where greenhouse gas emissions are still rising.
Light-duty vehicles - cars and vans - are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, producing around 15% of the EU's emissions of CO2.
Following up on a European Commission strategy adopted in 2007, the EU has put in place a comprehensive legal framework to reduce CO2 emissions from new light duty vehicles as part of efforts to ensure it meets its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol and beyond.
The legislation sets binding emission targets for new car and van fleets. As the automotive industry works towards meeting these targets, average emissions are falling each year.
For cars, manufacturers are obliged to ensure that their new car fleet does not emit more than an average of 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre (g CO2/Km) by 2015 and 95g by 2020. This compares with an average of almost 160g in 2007 and 135.7g in 2011.
In terms of fuel consumption, the 2015 target is approximately equivalent to 5.6 litres per 100 km (l/100 km) of petrol or 4.9 l/100 km of diesel. The 2020 target equates approximately to 4.1 l/100 km of petrol or 3.6 l/100 km of diesel.
For vans the mandatory target is 175 g CO2/Km by 2017 and 147g by 2020. This compares with an average of 203g in 2007 and 181.4g in 2010.
In terms of fuel consumption, the 2017 target is approximately equivalent to 7.5 litres per 100 km (l/100 km) of petrol or 6.6 l/100 km of diesel. The 2020 target equates approximately to 6.3 l/100 km of petrol or 5.5 l/100 km of diesel.
In July 2012 the Commission proposed legislation setting out the modalities for implementing the 2020 targets.
The Commission plans to issue a communication at the end of 2012 seeking stakeholders' views on post-2020 emission targets for new cars and vans. The intention is to ensure that CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles continue to be reduced while giving the automotive industry the certainty it needs to carry out long-term investments and develop innovative technologies. Any proposal of future targets will be based on a thorough assessment of their economic, social and environmental impacts.
To help drivers choose new cars with low fuel consumption, EU legislation requires Member States to ensure that relevant information is provided to consumers, including a label showing a car's fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions.
Heavy-duty vehicles (HDV) - 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. Despite some improvements in fuel consumption efficiency in recent years, HDV emissions are still rising, mainly due to increasing road freight traffic.
The Commission is currently working on a comprehensive strategy to reduce CO2 emissions from HDVs in both freight and passenger transport.
Fuel quality is an important element in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport. EU legislation requires the greenhouse gas intensity of vehicle fuels to be cut by up to 10% by 2020.