News & Views

Congestion g48843a0f3 1920

blog: Decarbonisation - shouldn't we be focusing on the 'fastest route to Zero'?

Author: Neil Taylor

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change impacts and adaptation a little over three weeks ago - shortly before I celebrated my 40th Birthday. The thing that struck me most as I read it were the repeated calls for urgent actions that are needed if the world is to avoid the consequences of Climate Change impacts that have become visibly, and uncomfortably, apparent within my lifetime (and which I was learning about at primary school back in the late 1980's!).

Indeed, the IPCC's Chair, Hoesung Lee, was quoted as saying:

"This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction... Our actions today will shape how people adapt, and nature responds to increasing climate risks."

It should make for sobering reading for anyone with a stake in the planet's future... which is, of course, everyone.

Tick-tock, Tick-tock...

There are encouraging signs that Governments and corporations around the world are grasping the proactive role they must play if we are to avert the Climate Emergency that many UK local authorities and national Governments have declared. The disturbing conflict in Ukraine, prompted by Russia's widely-condemned invasion almost a month ago, is also ushering the topic of domestic energy security, to the top of many nation's policy agendas. A significant number of European Governments currently find themselves scrambling for alternative sources of oil and gas supplies ahead of this winter, and those to come, which should hopefully focus minds and efforts in a more sustainable direction over time.

In the transport sector, just last week the UK Government announced its intention to accelerate investments in Electric Vehicle Charge Points so as to achieve a ten-fold increase in the number of public facilities available by 2030. However, this attempt to keep pace with surging demand for EVs, and the decisions of vehicle manufacturers to switch production to EVs now (limiting consumers' choice of petrol and diesel vehicles well in advance of 2030), was also accompanied by a 5p per litre cut in fuel duty to offset the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on fuel prices in the UK.

Carsharing gd79a68d12 1920 copy

Taken together, these actions suggest that - despite good intentions - we are not yet ready for the energy transition needed to propel us forward more sustainably. They also hint at the considerable political and public reluctance to embracing the mobility transition - specifically, reducing car use and more walking / cycling / electrified micro-mobility / public transport use. The work of the DecarboN8 research group suggests these will be necessary if we are to avoid more than 1.5 degrees of global warming above pre-industrial levels (even if every vehicle in the UK could be switched to EV propulsion overnight).

What you waiting for?

Frequently, when discussing the mobility and energy transitions, talk amongst transport professionals turns to future-gazing hopefulness. 'Buzzword bingo' topics include Hydrogen propulsion (in some cases ignoring the carbon cost of making this fuel, which is also a concern regarding electricity), the technologies behind Mobility-as-a-Service (ignoring the critical role that local and national Governments should be playing in order to broker consumer-friendly partnerships between mobility service operators) and 5G comms (important for connected and autonomous vehicle operation, and road safety outcomes).

I recognise they are all likely to play a role in the future mobility mix at some point in time, but also question how urgently we 'need' them right now in the context of transport decarbonisation - and whether they will necessarily help. Apart from the fact we are out of time if we want to enact the urgent changes needed to address the worsening Climate Emergency, I'm also not convinced the required solutions demand much further innovation at this point if we are to successfully decarbonise the majority of personal and shorter-distance logistics trips that occur in the UK.

IMG 5654
Life is short, you're capable

At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, and assuming we are serious about addressing the causes of global climate change (we are, right?), then the ten actions we could elect to focus on right now in the transport industry are:

  • Immediately switching our spending priorities from road construction and subsidising the cost of motoring to instead fund the re-prioritisation of road space in large towns and cities across the UK, and the delivery of EV charging networks (fast and slow).
  • Using this relinquished road space to quickly improve walking environments, deliver networks of safe and continuous cycleways, and prioritise bus services so they can be more journey-time competitive with private car travel.
  • Solving the issue of EV charging for people with no off-street parking by delivering municipally co-ordinated EV charge point networks that facilitate vehicle charging at domestic energy rates and VAT charges.
  • Introducing public transport franchising/local authority led partnership arrangements across all major towns and cities to ensure the cost of multi-stage public transport journeys is comparable to equivalent car-based options and information about bus service is universally available.
  • Accelerate and expand the Zero Emission Bus fleet investments already being rolled out in some cities across the UK.
  • Reintroducing statutory national parking standards that sever (or at least weaken) the link between homes, driveways and garages for developments in urban and suburban locations.
  • Freezing rail fares at 2022 prices, while enabling motoring costs to rise above inflation (as rail fares have been permitted to do in the recent past, while the cost of motoring has fallen in real-terms).
  • Introduce a national distance-based road user charging system that places a higher cost on journeys with feasible public transport/rail-based alternatives and place an additional tax burden on parking services in towns and cities to discourage driving into busy urban areas where competition for road space is most intense and demands greater people-focus.
  • Investing in expanded solar, wind and other renewable energy sources, as well as electrical grid capacity and resilience, to ensure supply meets demand and the UK can meet more of its own energy needs.
  • Introducing a national van and taxi scrappage scheme, at the point there are sufficient numbers of EV options capable of meeting the practical needs of independent tradespeople and couriers to soften the initial investment costs of switching to EV.
Tick-tock, Tick-tock...

Would people vote for all of these actions in an election tomorrow? I doubt it.

Could they help us avert a mounting Climate Emergency and affect some of the rapid changes called for by the IPCC? Almost certainly.

Can we afford to wait any longer to find out whether future technologies hold the answer? All the scientific evidence from the world's leading climate scientists suggests not.

Please Get in Touch if you would like to convert some of these ideas into actions in your town or city. My colleagues and I at ITP would love to help our clients determine their 'fastest route to zero'.


News Archives