Researchers say how to reduce UK transport carbon emissions by 76 per cent by 2050

Posted on 16 August 2010

Researchers at the Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York have achieved a significant breakthrough in climate change policy by showing how to make drastic cuts in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from transport.

The study goes beyond the science and paints a picture of what a low carbon transport future would look like. What emerges is vision of a less stressful, quieter, healthier, more resilient and confident society.

Transport is a major source of greenhouse gases and it is increasing emissions faster than any other sector of the economy. Growing levels of car use, road freight and flying have created difficulties in reducing transport’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But the York project has shown a phased programme of technological, financial and behavioural changes could secure the following potential cuts in (CO2) emissions compared to business-as-usual approach:

  • 100 per cent in road transport (cars and lorries)
  • 100 per cent in rail transport
  • 56 per cent in aviation
  • 49 per cent in shipping

The resulting overall reduction for transport in the UK by 2050 is 76 per cent.

The project took an evidence-based approach that meant reductions were included only if there was already-available experience showing that they could be achieved.

The research suggests that if the measures were implemented, there would be substantial economic benefits for individuals and businesses as well as a significant fall in road deaths and injuries. There would also be large reductions in noise and air pollution and dramatic changes in urban design and planning to provide substantially improved opportunities for walking, cycling and community cohesion. 

Professor John Whitelegg of the Stockholm Environment Institute and co-author of the study said:

“This project marks a significant break with traditional thinking that regards transport as too hard to deal with when it comes to greenhouse gas reduction. We have shown that the potential is much greater than anyone previously thought and that reductions in emissions go hand in hand with improvements in air quality, health and economic success.” 

The project adopted an innovative approach in specifying the reduction potential from spatial, technological, fiscal and behavioural changes. It identified the maximum degree to which these can be applied in a phased programme of action over the next 40 years.

The policy recommendations include a number of radical but achievable measures including:

  • Spatial planning to create neighbourhoods and communities where it is  possible to reach destinations on foot or by bicycle and public transport
  • New approaches to the regionalisation of production and consumption to bring about reductions in road freight
  • Increases in the cost of transport to implement the so-called “polluter pays principle”
  • Full de-carbonisation of the UK electricity supply system (as envisaged by the Climate Change Committee)
  • Full conversion of all cars to Plug In Electric Vehicles or Hydrogen Fuel Cells utilising de-carbonised electricity

Notes to editors:

  • The Stockholm Environment Institute is a global science policy research institute headquartered in Stockholm and with its UK office based in the Environment Department at the University of York. Its mission is to bridge the gap between science and policy to achieve change for a sustainable future.
  • More about the University of York’s Environment Department can be found on www.york.ac.uk/environment/
  • The study was funded by the Greenpeace Environmental Trust.
  • The results of this research and the clear policy recommendations have been sent to the Minister of Transport and the Minister responsible for climate change policy, the Chairs of the Regeneration and Transport Board and Environment Board of the Local Government Association, the AA and RAC, the Association of Train Operating Companies, the bus industry, the British Shipping Council, British Airways, Easyjet and Ryanair, BAA and the Freight Transport Association
  • The full report will be published on Monday 16 August and can be found on the SEI web site: www.sei-international.org

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153

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