Transport, climate change and reducing carbon emissions
11 December 2019

Transport, climate change and reducing carbon emissions

In June 2019, in her last throw of the dice as Prime Minister, Theresa May committed the UK to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, a strong commitment on climate change. In the face of public concern, most local authorities have now declared a ‘climate emergency’ and are seeking to achieve their part of the 2050 net emissions target. Some are aiming for even earlier than that.

However, just how that commitment will be met at national, regional or local level remains unclear. Transport is now the highest carbon dioxide emitting sector in the UK and currently shows little signs of reduction due to consistently high levels of private car and van use [DfT, National Travel Survey 2018, 1], as well as increasing levels of aviation [DfT, Aviation Statistics, AVI0101: Air Traffic at UK Airports, 2] .

In 2008, SYSTRA (formerly known as JMP) undertook a study to investigate the measures which would be needed in the Yorkshire and Humber region in order to achieve desired carbon emission reductions at the time (namely, an 80% reduction in 2008 carbon emissions by 2050). The study accounted for national projections for improvements in vehicle efficiency, but the growth in electric vehicles was not on the policy agenda as strongly as it is now. The results were startling. It showed that even with ‘an uncompromising suite of current practical transport policy approaches to delivering low carbon transport in the Yorkshire and Humber region, this aim is unlikely to be achieved’ [JMP and SEI (2008) Achieving Low Carbon and Sustainable Transport in Yorkshire and Humber, Yorkshire and Humber Assembly 3].

Moving to 2019, at a local level, there has been some work done recently in areas such as Leeds and Edinburgh to establish a ‘road map’ of how carbon reduction targets will be met [4],[5]. In both cases, it suggests that reductions of at least 80% on current carbon emissions by 2030 will be required for there to be any chance of 2050 net zero targets being met. This makes grim reading compared with the targets and outcomes of the 2008 study.

There appears to be a perception both in national policy and the media that a transfer of vehicles from petrol and diesel engines to ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) will be the ‘silver bullet’ solution to carbon emissions from land based transport. Nevertheless, through our work supporting Sheffield, Manchester, Bradford, Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside Councils in the development of Clean Air Zones, we have identified that government’s projections for the infiltration of ULEVs into the market appear to be at odds with this need for early and intensive intervention in order to meet 2050 targets. The government’s Emission Factor Toolkit predicts that only 1.7% of the vehicle kilometres driven in urban areas in England will be from ULEVs by 2030 (with no impacts from ULEVs on rural and motorway vehicle kilometres driven).

In our recent European study about the future of road transport [6], it was identified that consumers are concerned about climate change (only 7% of the those surveyed believed that we should not aim for net zero carbon emissions) and 70% think that a fully electrified vehicle network is a good idea to lowering carbon emissions, though there are perceived financial and practical barriers in place.

Furthermore, a recent project in South Yorkshire offering a free monthly bus pass for car driver commuters was closed due to its success [7]; both of which illustrate that there is an appetite for more sustainable transport choices amongst the public and, arguably, the need for faster implementation of existing solutions to help users make sustainable transport choices, as well as the development of new ones.

At SYSTRA, we have a wealth of experience in translating high level political goals and aspirations into integrated transport policies and plans by combining the skills of our strategic modellers and with our technical experts in the design and implementation of multi-modal transport strategies.

Now is the time for the transport sector to step up and do its bit to help eradicate the climate emergency. We are ready. Are you?

Contact Emma Anforth or Chris Robinson

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