If not now, then when?

Transport Knowledge Hub logo Published on: 20th April 2022 by Claire Haigh.

The IPCC have warned that it’s “now or never” if world is to stave off climate disaster.  We already look set to overshoot the 1.5C target.

In carefully calibrated messaging, the IPCC’s latest report highlights the enormous scale of the challenge but that we have the tools and the knowhow required.  Lifestyle changes offer significant untapped potential. Reducing energy demand across all sectors could deliver a 40-70 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050[i].

The UK Government has failed so far to grasp the nettle on demand reduction. Strikingly absent from the Energy Security Strategy were any new policies to save energy by insulating buildings, even though energy efficiency would immediately lower bills and emissions.  In his Spring Statement, the Chancellor opted to reduce fuel duty rather than provide support for public transport use.

Demand reduction will be critical for achieving the UK’s net zero targets for transport.  The anticipated roll out of EVs will be insufficient.  We need to reduce traffic on our roads by a quarter by 2030 to remain on track.[ii]  The Greener Transport Council has recently concluded a series of roundtable discussions on how to deliver that reduction[iii].  A full report will be published in the summer. Here are some initial conclusions:

  1. Pricing is the closest thing to a silver bullet

Progress on national road pricing has been hindered by the perception that it is politically undeliverable.  The switch to EVs provides a ‘window of opportunity’ to introduce a change.  Greener Transport Solutions have put forward proposals to replace fuel duty and VED with a national road user charging scheme based on distance and time, which if implemented would help manage transition to EVs and ease congestion[iv].

However, delivering the level of traffic reduction required to achieve net zero will involve a complete reformulation of transport pricing.  Price signals point in the wrong directions.  Leaving aside the current spike in fuel prices, over past 20 years the cost of motoring has fallen in real terms by 15% whilst the cost of rail fares has risen by 20% and of bus and coach fares by 40%[v].

We need radical solutions.  Should we give everyone a mobility budget for them to choose how to travel, with all modes of transport priced according to their carbon impact? That would dramatically alter the equation.  And why stop at transport.  What about a national carbon allowance, funded by putting a carbon price on everything we consume?

  1. We must decide how much transport we need

Since the 1950s our built environment has been predicated heavily in favour of the car.  The introduction of EVs has done nothing to disrupt that.  However, we should be rethinking our transport system.  What do we actually need to move in terms of people and goods, and what is the best way to do it?

We must harness learnings from the pandemic.  Research by CREDs reveals that car ownership and use is not yet back to pre-pandemic levels.  Many more people have continued to walk more often[vi].  We must build on these positive changes with more integrated planning, better cross sectoral working to reduce the need for travel and more investment in sustainable transport.

We must also consider the carbon embedded in all the vehicles and infrastructure we are building.  Government transport decarbonisation policy is focused exclusively on achieving an operational net zero.  But there is no such thing as a zero carbon vehicle.  How much transport infrastructure do we really need?

  1. We need a big national conversation

Politicians can only lead if people are willing to follow.  We heard from inspirational local leaders delivering sustainable transport in their areas.  However, they face significant barriers in terms of nimbyism, inherently car dependent settlements, lack of control over transport levers and an absence of national leadership.  The cut in fuel duty sent precisely the wrong signal.

As a sector we must paint a positive picture of what a zero-carbon future looks like. There is no shortage of dire warnings.  What we need is a clear articulation of the future we want.  More liveable places free of congestion and air pollution, connected communities and better opportunities for all.  The greener choice is more often the better choice.

The challenge will be in achieving cut through.  Inflation is now at 7%, the cost of living is escalating, and we have the worst fuel poverty crisis and gas supply crunch on record.  Climate change is the existential crisis, but more immediate crises dominate the headlines.

There is no time to lose, however.  The IPCC have been clear on what we must do avert catastrophe. Without immediate drastic action to cut emissions, that chance will slip away.

This article by Claire Haigh was published on 20th April by Transport Times

[i] https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg3/

[ii] https://greenertransportsolutions.com/publication/pathways-to-net-zero/

[iii] https://greenertransportsolutions.com/events/pathways-to-net-zero-a-series-of-roundtable-discussions/

[iv] https://greenertransportsolutions.com/publication/re-charging-britains-roads-policy/

[v] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/transport-decarbonisation-plan

[vi] https://www.creds.ac.uk/publications/less-is-more-changing-travel-in-a-post-pandemic-society/

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).