Transportation’s impact on the environment and global pollution




Read time 4 min.

Transportation’s contribution to global carbon pollution

As the global population approaches 8 billion people and continues to grow at approximately 1.1% annually, the need to reimagine how we live on this planet is of pressing concern. Current infrastructure systems struggle to serve present needs and will struggle to serve a growing population, while also attempting to address major climate concerns. 

Transportation is a basic human necessity, but currently, it is the fastest-growing source of global carbon emissions. Adding to global air pollution that already decreases average life expectancy by more than two years worldwide. To support future prosperity, it is imperative that transportation transitions from a primary means of energy consumption and pollution to a source of sustainable innovation and leadership. 

To spark this transition, HyperloopTT is pioneering sustainable mobility solutions for the future of the planet. Using existing data, and spearheading our own feasibility studies, HyperloopTT is in the process of deploying a new mode of profitable mass transportation that operates with zero-emissions.

The human impact of transportation emissions

To fully understand the importance of transitioning to emissions-free transportation, it is critical to contextualize the impact that transportation is currently having on the environment and as a result,  global health. 

Annually, transportation, primarily powered by fossil fuels, emits 8.8 billion tons of CO2. That’s 23% of global CO2 emissions. Beyond CO2, the burning of fossil fuels produces a toxic cocktail of particulate matter, ozone, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. This dangerous combination of airborne pollutants exacerbates climate change and directly impacts global health and wellness.

Multiple studies have shown exposure to ambient air pollution can lead to an array of immediate symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, headaches, and shortness of breath, while prolonged exposure causes inflammation, poor circulation, severe respiratory issues, and cognitive dysfunction. Cardiovascular Research found that ambient air pollution currently reduces human life expectancy by an average of nearly three years, making it a leading global health risk. 

Comparing the operating emissions of current transportation options

Transportation is not solely responsible for pollution, but it is a leading contributor. Therefore, it is important to understand the environmental cost of operating each mode. In other words, how much pollution, namely CO2, is emitted while in operation. 

High-speed rail (HSR)

HSR operations produce the least carbon emissions of modern transportation solutions. A study analyzing 4 HSR routes found that emissions vary greatly depending on the terrain being traversed. Relatively flat runs generated only 5.7 grams of CO2  per passenger kilometer, whereas runs that experience changes in elevation can generate upwards of 39.2g CO2 per pkm and 42.9g CO2 per pkm.

Routes analyzed:

  • 5.7g CO2 per pkm | Valence to Versaille, France
  • 5.7g CO2 per pkm | Tours to Bordeaux, France
  • 42.9g CO2 per pkm | Taipei to Kaohsiung, Taiwan
  • 39.2g CO2 per pkm | Beijing to Tianjin, China

The carbon emissions of operating an automobile include the emissions released by a car’s combustion engine and the carbon footprints of oil refineries producing fuel. Assuming an average load of 1.6 passengers per car, a car that uses 7 litres (1.8 gallons) of fuel to travel 100 kms (62.5 miles)  generates 130g CO2 per pkm.


Currently the fastest mode of transportation over long distances, airplanes have the highest operating emissions on inter-continental journeys. In a study that analyzed an Airbus A320, which carries an average of 98 passengers plus luggage and cargo per flight found that an inter-European flight generated 163.2 g CO2 per pkm.

Innovation is the answer to the climate crisis

When progress is the only option, pioneers must step forward. 

Now is the time to create a transportation infrastructure that can support the health of future generations. Not just HyperloopTT, but the entire transportation industry needs to focus on implementing practical changes that will eliminate the creation of harmful emissions during operation. 

At HyperloopTT, we are deploying the latest technical innovations with industry-leading technologies to reimagine travel. Each technical decision is led by safety and environmental analysis, including the integration of a highly efficient electric linear motor coupled with passive levitation system and regenerative braking solutions and renewable energy capture technologies. 

In fact, it is estimated that a hyperloop system along a 475 km route in the Great Lakes region will remove 12 million fossil-fuel burning trips annually. These commuters will abandon traffic-congested roads for the faster and more convenient hyperloop, reducing the corridor’s CO2 emissions by 5 million metric tons a year.

The sustainable future that we want to live in will not build itself. I am proud to lead a team that wakes up every day committed to the creation of a sustainable transportation system. 

Download shareable assets here.


Ben Cooke

HyperloopTT Head of Media Relations

Related stories

Stories by topic