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Implications of COVID-19 lockdowns on surface passenger mobility and related CO2 emission changes in Europe

14 July 2021

Authors: Marta Schulte-Fischedick, Yuli Shan, Klaus Hubacek.

Journal: Applied Energy, Volume 300, 15 October 2021, 117396.


The coronavirus pandemic has severely affected our daily lives, with direct consequences on passenger transport. This in turn has strongly impacted the energy demand of the transport sector and associated CO2 emissions. We analyse near real-time passenger mobility and related emission trends in Europe between 21 January and 21 September 2020. We compiled a dataset of country-, sector- and lockdown- specific values, representing daily activity changes in private, public, and active passenger transport. In the aggregate, surface passenger transport emissions fell by 11.2% corresponding to 40.3 MtCO2 in Europe. This decline was predominantly due to the reduction of private passenger transport in five European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK). During the first lockdown in April 2020, CO2 emissions from surface passenger transport declined by 50% in Europe, resulting in a 7.1% reduction in total CO2 emissions. After April 2020, private passenger travel recovered rapidly, while public passenger flows remained low. Solely prompted by the private sector, a rebound in total emissions and surface passenger transport emissions of 1.5% and 10.7%, respectively, was estimated at the end of the study period. The resulting situation of increased private and decreased public passenger transport is in contradiction to major climate goals, and without reversing these trends, emission reductions, as stated in the European Green Deal are unlikely to be achieved. Our study provides an analysis based on a detailed and timely set of data of surface passenger transport and points to options to grasp the momentum for innovative changes in passenger mobility.

Last modified:17 August 2021 11.34 a.m.

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