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Transport & Environment

Decoupling of transport growth from GDP growth

Calls for action to tackle the volume of transport, or at least its growth, have frequently been formulated. They have come on the level of experts including the Commission's own expert group on transport and environment, but also on the highest political levels in the EU. In its integration strategy [1], the Transport Council states "It is necessary to ensure that economic growth can continue without necessarily entailing traffic growth with an increase in the negative effects of transport". The conclusions from the European Council in Gothenburg in June 2001 state that "A sustainable transport policy should tackle rising volumes of traffic and levels of congestion, noise and pollution [.]. Action is needed to bring about a significant decoupling of transport growth and GDP growth, in particular by a shift from road to rail, water and public passenger transport." The volume of transport is also a concern in the 6th Environmental Action Programme which calls for "decoupling economic growth and the demand for transport with the aim of reducing environmental impacts".

DG Environment has launched a study on the unintended transport-generating effects that EU policies themselves may have. This study is a limited, initial survey that points the way for necessary follow-up with the policy sectors concerned.

Some related activities:

  • The European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT) held an international seminar on the topic of "Managing the Fundamental Drivers of Transport Demand" on 16 December 2002. The proceedings of this conference can be obtained at:
  • The OECD Environment Directorate is pursuing a project entitled "Decoupling transport impacts and economic growth" under the auspices of the Working Group on Transport of the Working Party on National Environmental Policies. Contact: Nadia Caid, or Peter Wiederkehr, See also the OECD web site on sustainable transport,
  • The joint transport/environment expert group has in the past dealt with transport demand. It formed a working group on transport demand (WG2) in 1999. The report is available at the transport and environment expert group's CIRCA web site managed by the Commission ( to which the members of the expert group have access. Another working group on "Transport demand and behavioural change" was formed in 2000 (WG3). Its report is also available at CIRCA, and at the Commission's web site (
  • The SPRITE project (Separating the Intensity of Transport from Economic Growth) was funded under the 5th Framework Programme for research. Its outcome can be found at

[1]Council strategy on the integration of environment and sustainable development into the transport policy submitted by the "Transport " Council to the European Council of Helsinki. Council document 11717/99 TRANS 197 ENV 335, 11 October 1999.