Britain failing on transport emissions

Government efforts to tackle carbon dioxide from vehicles lack teeth and a fatalism has crept into the Department of Transport where rising emissions are seen as an indicator of a healthy economy.

This is the damning conclusion of a group of MPs tasked with scrutinising the Government’s environmental policy.

The Environmental Audit Committee, chaired by high-profile Tory Tim Yeo, published the findings of its report into Reducing Carbon Emissions from Transport on Monday with the most casual of glances revealing it is going to make for pretty bleak reading.

“Yes, it is,” Tim Yeo told edie. “Our concern is that transport is now producing a third of all carbon emissions in Britain and it’s the only important sector which is rising.

“We said in the report that there seems to be a degree of fatalism in the Department of Transport which says that if the economy is thriving then transport emissions are bound to rise. We don’t think that has to be the case.”

Between 1990 and 2004, overall UK carbon emissions declined by 5.6%, from but emissions from transport bucked the trend, increasing by 10%, with CO2 from international flights leaving the country soaring by a staggering 111%.

Mr Yeo said the committee would like to see emissions targets set sector by sector, rather than having a single target for transport as whole, to make separate industries more accountable rather than riding on the successes of certain areas.

“It’s easier to monitor and easier to put pressure on those parts of the transport industry if they lag behind,” he said.

“This general overall target doesn’t bite very hard. Sector targets would encourage people to raise their game.”

There were practical, and realistic, steps that could be taken to reduce emissions whether through more intelligent taxation or new legislation, he said.

The MP told edie that he believed aviation was the most pressing, and most difficult, sector in need of action.

“There’s a feeling of frustration there,” he said.

“Aviation is difficult as most of the big decisions can only be taken internationally but we’d like to see the Government work with the EU to introduce VAT on airline tickets.”

he added that the committee would also like to see flights taxed on the basis of the plane used and fuel consumed, rather than by the number of passengers.

It believes encourage the use of more efficient aircraft and reduce the number of half-empty flights operated by airlines.

Steps also needed to be taken to reduce the amount of air freight, said Mr Yeo.

“There is an issue about the growing amount of goods that are flown around the world,” he said.

“If the cost of flying more accurately reflected the environmental damage caused, the price would be much higher and so some of these goods would be shifted back to the sea and shipping which would benefit the environment.”

Shipping comes with its own set of problems, however, as emissions from boats are excluded from Kyoto targets and due to the international nature of the industry there are difficulties tying down the responsibility for pollution from a particular journey.

Mr Yeo said the EAC would like to see an environmental charge levied on ships when they came into harbour which would reflect their emissions since they last left port.

“Emissions from boats are excluded from the calculations as far as Kyoto Targets go.

When it comes to the public’s driving habits, he said, clean technology was already there and people needed to be given a bigger incentive to choose it.

“We want a carrot and stick approach – those who choose green vehicles should find their motoring costs go down while those who drive those with bigger emissions should be penalised,” he said.

While the existing system of putting low emitters in a different tax bracket to the big polluters was a start, he said, the gap needed to be widened before there would be any real impact.

“We can’t be sure if it would ever be effective but what we can be sure of is that if the differential is only about the price of three tanks of petrol it’s not likely to have much of an impact – It’s at least worth a try,” he said.

“We’re not likely to persuade people to get rid of their Aston Martin’s overnight, but we might be able to change people’s behaviour significantly.

“I think what you are more likely to see is people move along the scale towards a slightly greener version of what they are used to, and that would have a big impact if everyone did it.”

The committee has also recommended a reduction in motorway speed limits, or better enforcement of the 70mph limit, and funding to encourage people to swap car journeys for public transport, cycling or walking.

The full report can be found on the EAC’s website.

Sam Bond

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