The U.K. will this week commit to steeper cuts in carbon emissions, reports the Financial Times. Prime minister Boris Johnson is set to adopt the recommendations made by the government’s independent advisory group, the Climate Change Committee.
The recommendations require, among many other things, a reduction in miles traveled by car and more travel on transit and a massive increase in walking and cycling.
Ahead of the UN’s COP26 climate summit to be held later this year in Glasgow, the U.K. government has accepted the Climate Change Committee’s goal to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels.
The new U.K. target—up from a previous pledge of a 68% reduction—will be announced during a climate summit on Thursday, when President Joe Biden is due to outline a new national goal for U.S. carbon reduction.
“Car travel dominates surface transport emissions,” said a Climate Change Committee report published last year.
“There are opportunities to reduce demand for car travel, through both societal and technological changes and by enabling journeys to be shifted onto lower-carbon modes of transport,” continued the report.
Cars account for 61% of surface transport emissions. HGVs account for 17% and vans for another 17%. While the Climate Change Committee wants to see a greater take-up of motor vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions, making cars electric will not be enough: car use has to be cut overall.
In 2019, 7% of car journeys were less than 1 mile, while a further 17% were between 1 and 2 miles. That’s just one percent shy of a quarter of all car journeys being short enough to walk in minutes. Hopping into cars for such incredibly short distances causes congestion, increases road danger and, by not walking or cycling instead, habitual car use leads to poorer health.
An increase in purchases of higher-emitting vehicles such as sports utility vehicles (SUVs), whose market share has risen from 7% in 2007 to 25% in 2019 has eaten up the carbon-reduction benefits delivered by the increase in sales of electric vehicles.
The Climate Change Committee believes e-bikes could displace car journeys of up to 9 miles. E-bikes, said the committee’s 2020 report, offer the “potential to shift a greater number of journeys away from cars.”
By 2050, the number of car miles traveled—car use in other words—must be cut by 34%, urged the Climate Change Committee’s report.
If the U.K. government wishes to keep its climate change promises it would have to reintroduce fuel duty, massively ramp-up the building of cycling and walking infrastructure—including encouraging local authorities to introduce more “low traffic neighbourhoods” (LTNs)—and scale back its £27 billion road building program.
Other measures required, says the Climate Change Committee, would be emissions reductions from domestic and international aviation. There would also have to be a reduction in meat and dairy consumption.
Think the one-day arrival of autonomous vehicles is the answer to traffic congestion and a reduction in emissions? The Climate Change Committee isn’t convinced. While welcoming the technology “could have a significant impact on levels of demand for road transportation” the committee’s report stressed that the “impacts are highly uncertain” and could, instead, increase miles traveled.
The Climate Change Committee pointed to immediate changes that could be made, including encouraging walking and cycling through better street design.
The committee’s report singled out the traffic-reduction measures carried out in Waltham Forest, London, where £27 million was invested by Transport for London in encouraging walking, cycling and improving public spaces. Measures introduced included building separated cycleways on seven major road routes, introducing a zero-emission cargo-bike delivery service, and delivering cycle training to 15,000 people.
Waltham Forest also created 15 new parks and planted more than 660 trees. Benefits, said the climate committee’s report, included residents walking and cycling for an extra 41 minutes each week, an increase in life expectancy of around 7-9 months for residents and improved air quality.
The Climate Change Committee report also highlighted Greater Manchester’s Bee Network which is the longest planned walking and cycling network in the U.K. The program costs £1.5 billion to be delivered over ten years. Estimated benefits are valued at £6 billion and include taking 45,000 cars off the road each year.