Bus, train, car or e-scooter: carbon emissions of transport modes ranked

Mobility is an indispensable part of everyday life. However, transport is also one of the biggest sources of CO2 emissions in Germany and Europe. In order to fulfil the requirements of the Paris Climate Protection Agreement and come closer to the target of the Federal Climate Protection Act for 2030, the transport sector in Germany must quickly and drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years.

How can this be achieved? We need a comprehensive mobility transition that leads to a reduction in motorised private transport and a strengthening of public transport and climate-friendly modes of transport such as cycling. After all, cars are responsible for a large proportion of transport-related greenhouse gas emissions.


  1. This is how much CO2 is caused by transport
  2. Who calculates emissions data?
  3. This is how much CO2 buses, trains, cars & co. emit

This is how much CO2 is caused by transport

Transport is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. In Germany alone, it is responsible for a fifth of all greenhouse gases, according to the Federal Environment Agency. Per capita, emissions amount to 2.16 tonnes of CO2 per year. That is a fifth of the total average carbon footprint of 10.78 tonnes of CO2.

The main driver of greenhouse gases in the transport sector is road transport. Around 740 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) were emitted throughout the EU in 2021 due to the combustion of fuels in road transport. Cars and motorbikes in particular caused the largest share of these emissions at 64 per cent. Trucks and buses accounted for 27 per cent and light commercial vehicles for a further 10 per cent.

Despite more efficient engines and exhaust technology as well as the use of new fuels (such as E10), it has not been possible to reduce emissions in recent years. This is because these measures have been more than offset by the rising volume of traffic and the increasing number of highly motorised vehicles with significantly higher fuel consumption.

Between 1990 and 2021, annual CO2 emissions from road transport increased by 21 per cent across the EU. The most significant increase in CO2 emissions was in light commercial vehicles (an increase of 49 per cent). Greenhouse gas emissions from trucks and buses increased by 28 per cent and those from cars by 15 per cent. The EU intends to become climate-neutral by 2050 with the help of the European Green Deal. This will require immense efforts in the transport sector.

Source: Eurostat database

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Who calculates emissions data?

Official emissions data from the Federal Environment Agency

The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) collects environmentally relevant data for the various modes of transport and draws on official statistics and secondary literature. On the basis of the data collected, the emissions of noise, air pollutants and climate-relevant gases such as CO2 are calculated. The UBA uses its own models and computer-aided programmes for this purpose.

Travel and Mobility Tech of the Lufthansa Innovation Hub

TNMT is a unit of the Lufthansa Innovation Hub and produces data-supported market analyses on the most important trends in the travel and mobility industry. To evaluate the different urban mobility modes - including the growing number of new transport services such as e-scooters and shared bicycles - based on their average CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre, TNMT has collected as many available data points as possible from reputable sources.

The resulting ranking provides many insights, but does not represent scientifically validated results, as the data on carbon emissions per mode of transport is based on existing third-party studies using different methods and assumptions.

This is how much CO2 is emitted by bus, train, car & co.

The Federal Environment Agency has analysed which form of mobility causes how much greenhouse gas emissions. The UBA has converted methane and nitrous oxide into so-called CO2 equivalents for a better comparison. The most recent data is from 2022. The average emissions of individual modes of passenger transport in the ranking.

CO2 Emissions by Transport
Cycling and walking
0 g/pkm
3 g/pkm
Long-distance bus
31 g/pkm
Rail, long-distance
31 g/pkm
Other bus services
42 g/pkm
Rail, local services
58 g/pkm
Metro and tram
63 g/pkm
Local bus
93 g/pkm
123 g/pkm
Car (Average)
166 g/pkm
238 g/pkm

11. cycling and walking

Unsurprisingly, walking and cycling are the most climate-friendly ways of travelling. People who walk or cycle do not emit any direct CO2 emissions or CO2 equivalents. Only the use of e-bikes emits small amounts of greenhouse gases. In 2022, this was 3 grams per person-kilometre.

10. e-scooters and e-mopeds

Emissions data for e-scooters and e-mopeds are not available from the Federal Environment Agency. However, TNMT has collected data to analyse the carbon footprint of e-scooters and e-mopeds. According to this, the greenhouse gas emissions of e-mopeds are 3 grams per passenger kilometre, comparable to an e-bike. These are indirect emissions from electricity generation. For e-scooters, TNMT has calculated direct CO2 emissions of 25 grams per passenger kilometre.

9. long-distance bus

Among motorised vehicles, long-distance buses have the lowest impact on the climate, according to data from the Federal Environment Agency. In 2022, long-distance buses generated around 31 grams of CO2 per kilometre travelled and passenger (known as passenger kilometres), which was almost the same as the figure of 30 grams for the pre-coronavirus year 2019. In 2021, when the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic were still clearly felt, the CO2 emissions of long-distance coaches were still 37 grams per passenger kilometre.

8. rail, long-distance transport

After long-distance buses, long-distance trains are the most climate-friendly mode of transport. The Federal Environment Agency recorded average CO2 emissions of 31 grams per passenger kilometre for long-distance rail transport in 2022. In 2021, the figure was 46 grams. This was due to the lower capacity utilisation of trains during the pandemic-related contact restrictions. There was a slight increase compared to the pre-corona period. In 2019, the railway's carbon footprint was 27 grams.

However, the current electricity mix in Germany is decisive for the CO2 emissions of the railway. According to the Federal Statistical Office, much less energy was generated from wind power in 2021 due to the weather. In contrast, climate-damaging coal-fired power generation increased by almost a quarter. This has had an impact on CO2 emissions.

7. other bus transport

‘Other’ bus transport includes coaches in so-called occasional transport, i.e. group and day trips as well as non-commercial bus connections, for example on a factory site. Greenhouse gas emissions from other bus transport in 2021 were 42 grams of CO2 per passenger kilometre.

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6. rail, local transport

Greenhouse gas emissions from local rail transport averaged 58 grams per passenger per kilometre in 2022. This figure is an average value, as trains with diesel traction, which have higher CO2 emissions, still run in Germany alongside trains with electric traction. While electric trains have CO2 emissions of just 49 grams, diesel-powered trains have greenhouse gas emissions of 90 grams per passenger kilometre. This means that the more electrically powered trains there are in Germany, the lower the CO2 emissions in local transport.

In 2021, the result was still 93 grams of CO2 per passenger kilometre, again due to the lower capacity utilisation caused by the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the figure was 51 grams of greenhouse gases per passenger kilometre.

5. underground and tram

The carbon footprint for local public transport journeys - i.e. underground, light rail or tram - was 63 grams per passenger kilometre in 2022. Emissions are therefore falling again. In 2021, CO2 emissions were still at 80 grams per passenger kilometre. The low passenger numbers on public transport during the pandemic were particularly noticeable here. This is because the capacity utilisation of public transport is taken into account in the statistics for CO2 emissions. In 2021, capacity utilisation was only 11 per cent, in 2022 it was 15 per cent. Switching from car to public transport not only has a positive effect on overall transport emissions, but also means that public transport has a better carbon footprint.

4. scheduled bus service

In the so-called environmental network (public transport, cycling, walking), scheduled buses perform the worst. Nevertheless, they are still significantly more climate-friendly than private cars. The Federal Environment Agency calculated average CO2 emissions of 93 grams per passenger kilometre for buses in 2022. As with local rail transport, a distinction needs to be made between diesel and electric drives. While electric buses have a CO2 footprint of 72 grams per passenger kilometre, diesel buses have a CO2 value of 96 grams. This means that the ongoing electrification of many urban bus fleets will also improve the CO2 balance here. Incidentally, the value for city buses has also improved compared to the 2021 value of 108 grams.

3. ferry

The Federal Environment Agency does not have any current data on CO2 consumption for ferries. TNMT from the Lufthansa Innovation Hub arrives at direct CO2 emissions of 123 grams per passenger per kilometre for ferries. The indirect operational emissions from fuel supply or electricity generation for ferries are 24 grams per passenger kilometre.

2. car

The CO2 emissions of cars depend heavily on the drive system used and the type of fuel used. The average greenhouse gas emissions of cars in 2022 were 166 grams of CO2 equivalents per passenger kilometre driven, with an average occupancy rate of 1.4 persons per car. This means that with a typical occupancy rate of one person in commuter traffic, CO2 emissions are significantly higher.

The most climate-damaging car is the diesel car. They emit an average of 173 grams of CO2 per passenger kilometre, followed by petrol cars with 165 grams. Plug-in hybrids fare better: they emit an average of 121 grams of CO2 per passenger kilometre. However, this also depends on the driving style and where the car is used. This is because CO2 emissions increase if the built-in combustion engine is mainly used while driving. The most climate-friendly of all car drive systems is the electric motor. Purely battery-electric cars emit only 79 grams of CO2 equivalents per passenger kilometre. It should be mentioned once again that only direct emissions while driving are taken into account when calculating CO2 emissions. The production of electric cars, especially the battery, can actually emit more greenhouse gases than the production of conventional combustion cars.

1. airplane

As expected, the aeroplane is by far the most climate-damaging mode of transport. According to the Federal Environment Agency, the carbon footprint of the domestic flights considered was 238 grams per passenger kilometre in 2022. Here, too, emissions have fallen compared to the coronavirus year 2021 (271 grams), but still remain at an extremely high level.

This is also due to the ‘non-CO2 effects’. The aeroplane was the only mode of transport in the statistics for which these effects were included. The non-CO2 effect refers to the additional greenhouse effect caused by the burning of paraffin through the formation of methane and nitrous oxide. This means that the total climate impact of all exhaust gases from an aircraft at cruising altitude is approximately two to three times higher than that of pure CO2 emissions.

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Stefan Wendering
Stefan is a freelance author and editor at NAVIT. Previously, he worked for startups and in the mobility sphere. He is an expert in urban and sustainable mobility, employee benefits, and New Work. In addition to creating blog content, he also produces marketing materials, taglines, and website content, as well as case studies.
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