Government urged to prioritise public transport, walking and cycling to reduce emissions

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, new IPPR analysis has found.


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Government urged to prioritise public transport, walking and cycling to reduce emissions

While welcoming efforts to decarbonise the sector

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.

The IPPR’s head of Environmental Justice Commission Luke Murphy said: “The urgency of the climate crisis cannot be overstated. Yet little progress has been made in cutting transport emissions over the past three decades. This imperative for urgent action creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put in place a new approach to how we all travel.

“The government’s current preferred strategy places an overwhelming focus on the shift to electric vehicles. While superficially attractive because of its offer of continuity, such an approach will not deliver for people or planet. We need to massively expand the provision of and affordability of clean public transport options, such as trains, buses and trams, while helping more people to regularly walk and cycle, alongside a shift to electric vehicles for those that need them.”

Transport transgressions

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.

According to Government statistics, territorial carbon emissions from transport in 2020 sat at 97.2 megatonnes, which are 22.5% lower than 1990 levels. While progress has been made, the sector still accounts for 29.8% of the UK’s total emissions.

The UK believes it can decarbonise all modes of transport and has promised to publish a roadmap outlining how the sector can reach net-zero emissions. This strategy was due out in 2020 but has been delayed amid Covid-19, and is now expected ahead of COP26, as part of a wider net-zero roadmap encompassing all major sectors.

The IPPR is calling for that strategy to revamp approaches to passenger vehicles. Globally, EV sales are expected to reach 45 million unit sales a year by 2040, growing 35 times its current size. In the UK, the IPPR believes that the Government can be more ambitious in its approach to decarbonisation.

Earlier this year, the Government confirmed that the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars had been moved forward to 2030. There are some exceptions to the ban, with some plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and some full hybrids still able to be sold up until 2035. The IPPR is calling for the ban on these vehicles to be brought forward to 2025 for large commercial fleets. Additionally, procurement for carbon-emitting vehicles should stop as of next year, the thinktank adds.

While welcoming efforts to decarbonise the sector, the IPPR notes that only one-third of the bottom 10% in terms of household income own a car. As such, a growth in car ownership through EVs and road expansions could place some at risk. The IPPR is calling for a reallocation of road space to account for cycling, walking and green space. The thinktank adds that towns and city centres should aim to be car free by 2030 and local authorities should target at least 30% tree cover for new developments that also prevent traffic increases or car dependence.

The IPPR is also calling for a national guarantee for levels of transport without the need to own a car. This would include universal access to public transport for all rural areas and a principle rule that everyday needs be accessible within a 20-minute walk, cycle or public transport trip. The IPPR estimates that investment in walking and cycling during this Parliament should be at least £6bn.


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Matt Mace

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Comments (1)

  1. David Dundas says:

    The IPPR report advises The government s current preferred strategy places an overwhelming focus on the shift to electric vehicles. While superficially attractive because of its offer of continuity, such an approach will not deliver for people or planet. We need to massively expand the provision of and affordability of clean public transport options, such as trains, buses and trams…

    There are many people who do not have a driveway and charging point so cannot leave an EV charging overnight, or they need to drive long distances and have no time to recharge an EV battery on the way, so a hydrogen electric (FCEV) powered car that can be refilled in 5 minutes is the only practical solution. HVGs, buses, coaches and large delivery vehicles will all need FCEV power because of the greater amount of energy needed on board when the lower energy density of batteries becomes a major issue. the UK infrastructure of hydrogen filling stations is almost negligible and needs rapid Government intervention to have hydrogen filling stations for both cars and heavy vehicles installed with equal urgency as that for EV charging points. Considering that EV charging points require a massive upgrade to the electricity network as well as a big increase in electric power generation which both take a long time to build, hydrogen powered transport can avoid these issues with supply from existing sources that do not require electricity.

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