Pathways to Net Zero – a series of roundtable discussions

Published on: 9th March 2022 by Claire Haigh.

The key conclusion of the Greener Transport Council’s Manifesto for Decarbonising Transport was that clean technologies will not be enough to reach our net zero targets for transport, we also need to reduce the volume of traffic on our roads.  The focus of the Pathways to Net Zero programme is to develop proposals for how to deliver the traffic reduction required.

The programme began in March 2022 with a series of five roundtable discussions which aimed to drill deeper into the key areas necessary for delivering traffic reduction.  The roundtables were chaired by the leading academics on the Greener Transport Council:

  • Stephen Glaister CBE, Emeritus Professor of Transport and Infrastructure at Imperial College London, Associate of the London School of Economics – Pricing
  • Professor Peter Jones OBE, Professor of Transport and Sustainable Development in the UCL Centre for Transport Studies – Wider economy
  • Professor Glenn Lyons, Mott MacDonald Professor of Future Mobility, University of the West of England – Planning
  • Professor Greg Marsden, Professor of Transport Governance, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds – Politics and local delivery
  • Professor Jillian Anable, Chair in Transport and Energy, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds – Behaviour change

PRICING

Monday 21 March | Chaired by:
Professor Stephen Glaister CBE, Emeritus Professor of Transport and Infrastructure at Imperial College London, Associate of the London School of Economics

Pricing should incentivize consumers to make lower carbon choices. ‘Making polluters pay’ is a highly effective way to change behaviour, and arguably the only way to deliver behaviour change at the speed and scale needed.  If carbon were properly priced, then people would quickly seek ways to use less of it or find substitutes.  However, the central concern about using pricing as an instrument is how to ensure that the disadvantaged in society are not penalized.  There is a perception that environmental taxes and charges may be regressive.

In this session we explored the use of pricing to change behaviour and deliver reduction of carbon emissions.  Consideration was given to road pricing, carbon pricing, and the wider system of taxation, incentives and fiscal measures.  Our starting position was that the pricing of our transport system is already inequitable, and with the roll out of electric vehicles (EVs), which are unaffordable for many on lower incomes, that may get worse.

  • The roll out of EVs makes the use of fuel duty as a policy instrument increasingly problematic.  How do we replace fuel duty with something fairer?
  • How do we introduce road pricing with a system that can levy charges on both conventionally fuelled and EVs fairly, without disintentivising the switch to EVs?
  • How should the conversation with the public be framed? The switch to EVs creates the imperative for an honest conversation about road taxes and charges, but the argument for road pricing must not just be about filling a fiscal black hole.
  • How do we simultaneously communicate the urgency? EVs are only a part of the answer. The lion share of emissions reductions over the next decade will need to be delivered by traffic reduction.
  • What could be the role of a universal carbon allowance, funded by putting a carbon price on everything we consume? If we price properly for carbon this would be a substantial sum, so as a percentage of people’s income it could be a progressive measure.

Pricing Roundtable – 21 March – summary note

WIDER ECONOMY

Thursday 24 March | Chaired by:
Professor Peter Jones OBE, Professor of Transport and Sustainable Development in the UCL Centre for Transport Studies

A useful way to frame the carbon challenge and what we can do to change behaviour is the “avoid – shift – improve” framework.  There is a role for other sectors in all three aspects of this framework.  For example, in “improve” we can look at how to speed up the electrification of the fleet, in “shift” we can look to switch to public transport, active travel, more sustainable freight options such as rail, river, e-cargo bikes etc. The focus of this session, however, was on the “avoid” aspect, how to reduce the need for travel (i.e. the numbers and average lengths of persons trips)

We also reflected in this session on the role of GDP growth in relation to moving to carbon zero.  Our transport system reflects our economy, which has been built on the belief that we can extract resources boundlessly. For example, a car-based consumer culture has ensured that our transport system has been built on the assumption that the private car is the predominant mode.  This assumption continues to be reflected in transport budgets and planning decisions.

  • How much of current passenger and freight transport is influenced by the service delivery business models of other sectors?
  • How can we work with other sectors to reduce need for travel?
  • What best practice examples are there of strong cross-sectoral working? For example, the NHS’s Net Zero Strategy recognises that 14% of its carbon emissions associated with its estate and operations is associated with travel.
  • How can cross-sectoral working help to ensure that the transition to net zero is fair and has social justice at its heart?
  • Is it time we question some of our fundamental assumptions about continuing predominance of GDP growth? Do we need to move to a post growth future?

Wider Economy ppt

Wider Economy Roundtable – 24 March – summary note

PLANNING

Monday 28 March | Chaired by:
Professor Glenn Lyons, Mott MacDonald Professor of Future Mobility, University of the West of England

In this session we focused on how planning can send clearer signals from the medium-term future back to the present – telling businesses, households and individuals what the future needs to look like, and how that should influence the decisions they are making today. That we will not be building more car dependent developments. Unfortunately, the current shape of the future is more car dependent developments.  What we are currently building is highly carbon intensive, in the wrong locations, often with no pavement and entirely car dependent.

The session included consideration of strategic spatial planning, planning for critical infrastructure across transport, housing and digital planning, as well as planning at the local level. Digital connectivity is considerably more agile and able to respond quickly to changing needs, as clearly demonstrated by the pandemic.  The focus was on what can be done within the next decade.

  • What is the role of planning reform? We have a legal obligation to hit net zero, but that legal obligation is not currently reflected in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
  • How can we move away from a culture of building on greenfield sites without access to public transport, ensure the intensification of existing sites and development around public transport? How can we retrofit existing communities?
  • What is the role of destination switching, 15- or 20-minute neighbourhoods, mixed use developments, repurposing of office space (e.g. after Covid), ensuring new developments are fit for home working?
  • How do we stop making things worse? Over the next 8 years there are housing developments in the pipeline that would increase car dependency.
  • Is there a link between pricing and planning? The value of land is inversely related to its accessibility meaning that green field sites are cheaper to buy. Should we be using pricing to reverse this – with a surcharge on greenfield sites?

Planning Roundtable – 28 March – summary note

POLITICS AND LOCAL DELIVERY

Thursday 31 March | Chaired by:
Professor Greg Marsden, Professor of Transport Governance, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds

This session focused on what we can do quickly and differently to tackle the climate emergency.  The next decade is critical, with a massive range of challenges to be addressed across technology change, road space allocation, pricing and how much we travel. The challenges for decision-makers are huge and much of this is very visible and political.  The session focused on how to bring about change on the ground. We heard from decision-makers, advisors and campaigners who have been involved in winning and losing battles to improve the transport system.

As well as addressing really challenging implementation cases to date, we explored the politics of inaction. Sometimes the voices that shout loudly are the ones with a direct and immediate loss from a scheme or policy. However, climate change will impact future generations and movements such as Fridays for the Future and Extinction Rebellion are demanding more action and different policies.

  • How do we make change happen? What can happen quickly?  What are the alternatives to car travel and how do we sell those?
  • How do we win the culture wars? What enables us to take people with us? How do we recognize when we get it wrong?
  • How can local politicians take their electorates with them? How do they weigh up competing pressures?  How to handle the noisy minority? How to make the difficult decisions? How to stick with difficult policies?
  • What can we learn from the past – both the successes and failures of previous attempts to try to do things differently?
  • How might the environment in which difficult decisions have to be taken change? What is needed from central government by way of political support.

Politics and Local Delivery Roundtable – 31 March – summary note

BEHAVIOUR CHANGE

Monday 4 April | Chaired by:
Professor Jillian Anable, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds

Everything we need to consider in relation to traffic reduction is about behaviour change. This session focused on how we get the scale of change we need, not from a mode specific perspective but from the perspective of total packages of policies and measures.  We explored the question of behaviour change from a whole system perspective, including the trade-offs and what we need to have packaged around some of the harder measures to make change acceptable. If we rely exclusively on existing alternatives to car travel, we will not scale up quickly enough.  We need to consider new technologies, sharing access to vehicles, intensive application of light electric vehicles etc.

We need a cultural change. This will necessitate a different approach in terms of how we communicate with the public.  In this session we heard from specialists in delivering behaviour change, including successful consumer campaigns, political lobbying, protest movements.

  • What can we learn from elsewhere in the world? Where, if anywhere, have we seen the scale of change we need?
  • Who should we be targeting? Which segments of society would it be most fruitful to prioritise in the context of traffic reduction, including people who don’t (yet) have a car? How can we communicate the benefits of not owning a car?
  • Covid-19 has demonstrated that change is possible, and that it is possible to travel less. What can we learn about delivering behaviour change from the experience of the pandemic?
  • How do we challenge the prevailing paradigm that for surface transport all you need to do to be green is buy an EV? What does it look like when you’re trying to change an entire society on something foundational?
  • Some of the biggest barriers to progress are political not technological. What is the role of deliberative democracy? What can we learn from climate assemblies?

Behaviour Change Roundtable – 4 April – summary note

About the Author

This post was written by Claire Haigh. CEO of Greener Transport Solutions & Executive Director of the Transport Knowledge Hub. Claire was previously CEO of Greener Journeys (2009-2020).