Movement is essential in the ecology of most animals, and it typically consumes a large proportion of individual energy budgets. Environmental conditions modulate the energetic cost of movement (cost of transport, COT), and there are pronounced differences in COT between individuals within species and across species. Differences in morphology affect COT, but the physiological mechanisms underlying variation in COT remain unresolved. Candidates include mitochondrial efficiency and the efficiency of muscle contraction–relaxation dynamics. Animals can offset increased COT behaviourally by adjusting movement rate and habitat selection. Here, we review the theory underlying COT and the impact of environmental changes on COT. Increasing temperatures, in particular, increase COT and its variability between individuals. Thermal acclimation and exercise can affect COT, but this is not consistent across taxa. Anthropogenic pollutants can increase COT, although few chemical pollutants have been investigated. Ecologically, COT may modify the allocation of energy to different fitness-related functions, and thereby influence fitness of individuals, and the dynamics of animal groups and communities. Future research should consider the effects of multiple stressors on COT, including a broader range of pollutants, the underlying mechanisms of COT and experimental quantifications of potential COT-induced allocation trade-offs.