The draft policy paper, which lays down the European Commission's plans for the next decade, envisages a radically different transport system by 2020, with a single European transport area, open markets, greener infrastructure and low-carbon technologies.
"The economic costs of transportation are likely to increase owing to expensive oil, mounting congestion, scarcity of labour skills and wider application of the 'user-pays' principle for infrastructure use," says the draft, due to be published in December.
Transport emissions rose by 24% between 1990 and 2008, amounting to 19.5% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Commission's estimates.
As a result, the transport sector will have to reduce its emissions by at least 45-60% below 1990 levels if the EU is to keep up with its climate change objectives for 2050, the document argues.
"Considering today's almost complete reliance on oil, it is clear that the constraint on emissions will be the main factor to consider in designing the transport system of the future," the paper argues.
Cars, which account for two thirds of road transport emissions, are at the heart of the problem. But in the future, another challenge will be to tackle high emissions growth in air and maritime transport, which far exceeds road transport, it adds.