As automakers announce record profits, is it time to disincentivise car travel to reach net-zero?

Green Alliance states that a swathe of policy introductions could cut emissions

The Green Alliance’s Moving On report has found that the Government could reduce transport emissions by introducing new legislative targets that reduce car usage through driving charges that could then spur investment into better public transport access and routes.

With the Climate Change Committee (CCC) noting that traffic levels will need to be reduced even as the growth in electric vehicles (EVs) continues in order to reduce transport emissions, the Green Alliance has called for policy introductions that discourage car usage while promoting public transport, walking and cycling.

The Green Alliance claims that, at current pace, annual car mileage in the UK will rise by 17% to 300 billion miles by 2050, keeping its place as the highest polluting sector in the UK.

To change this course, the research claims that legislative charges on driving mileage, while also reducing road speed, reducing the cost of buses by 15%, rail fares by 5%, and increasing cycling by 20% could all contribute to a 25% cut in emissions.

Polling conducted for the research by Public First found that more than two-thirds of the public would be on board with such measures, especially if public transport was cheaper and better connected.

Green Alliance’s Rosie Allen said: “People would travel less by car if suitable alternatives were available. Unfortunately, we don’t currently have the range of measures required to encourage and enable more people to get out of their cars and onto a bike, bus or train.

“The government is emphasising that climate change will be beaten through ‘tangible’ measures, but there is currently a gap in ambition to reduce transport emissions. We’re showing here that a shift to greener travel is completely attainable. Ministers just need to choose a sensible route.”

Previous Green Alliance research found that the UK would need to reduce car mileage by up to 27% by 2030 to remain on track to reach net-zero by 2050. This would also save more than £2.5bn for the NHS due to better health and air pollution reduction.

Transport overtook power generation to become the UK’s highest-emitting sector in 2016, largely because more renewable energy was coming online as coal was coming offline. Indeed, the sector is one of the few in the UK where emissions have been gradually and steadily increasing.

The findings echo analysis from the IPPR, which found that the Government’s efforts to decarbonise transport are focusing too much on electric vehicles (EVs) and could fail to provide affordable and clean transport alternatives that cut overall car use.

IPPR analysis of the Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget advice suggests that efforts to decarbonise road transport through the uptake of EVs could deliver an 11% increase in car traffic by 2050 and a 28% increase in car ownership. The analysis expresses concern about the resources required to accommodate the 28% increase in car ownership – equivalent to around 43.6 million vehicles.

Instead, the IPPR is calling for transport to be decarbonised in line with the net-zero target in a way that encourages greater uptake of public transport, cycling and walking.


In related news, Transport and Environment (T&E) has this week analysed the profits of European carmakers that are pushing back against current EU proposals to tighten air pollution requirements in the sector.

The new analysis shows that European car manufacturers made record profits in 2022. BMW almost tripled its profit margin in 2022 compared to 2019 while Stellantis more than doubled its margin. In total, Europe’s five big carmakers more than doubled their annual profits since 2019 to €64bn.

These are the same automakers that are pushing back against EU proposals on air pollution, which T&E claims would cost at most €150 per car. The ‘Euro 7’ limits for toxic emissions from road transport are designed to combat the health issues and deaths associated with air pollution.

T&E is advocating more ambitious pollution limits which would cost Europe’s largest carmaker, Volkswagen, €5.7bn over the timespan of the regulation, which would account for 37% of its 2022 profits, according to the analysis.

T&E’s vehicle emissions and air quality manager Anna Krajinska said: “We don’t begrudge carmakers their record profits, but claims that they cannot afford cheap pollution fixes are simply corporate greed.

“The auto industry is maximising profits by selling more expensive premium vehicles while at the same time pretending pollution rules would make cars unaffordable. EU lawmakers need to put public health before the industry’s money grab.”

Comments (3)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    I would suggest that a valuable addendum to electric transport would be a compulsory, efficient, recycle route for all electrical storage equipment.
    Scarce elements are just that, scarce. Do not waste!!!

  2. John Daglish says:

    It should be mandatory for a car manufacturer selling x electric vehicle units in the market to have a low x cost peoples EV model at x units /year that has x range. At the moment most are selling mostly up market models where there is the most profit.

    But it is easier and cheaper for the nation to invest in good public transport such as trams for the backbone in urban areas with electric buses, electric bicycle / scooter, (occasional) car and van share hire all integrated in a low cost annual public transport ticket.

    UK is developing some innovative VLR Very Light Rail trams (Trampower Cityclass, Coventry VLR, ULRP biomethane/flywheel tram, SET Acti-wheel in wheel motor and steerable axle), track (Trampower LR55, Coventry VLR, PCAT, ULRP Trackbeam) and OHL overhead line equipment (Trampower OHL, Coventry VLR/Furrer+Frey OHL charging station ).

  3. Maggie says:

    A big feat to address the shortcomings of driving alternatives like public transportation. True with any industry, there isn’t enough incentive right now to prompt a shift in use and decrease car purchases and high mileage.

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