climate change transport

Britain’s ‘uneven progress’ on climate change

Last week Britain’s Climate Change Committee made its annual report to Parliament, documenting our progress on national climate targets. The Committee has been reporting since it was created as part of the Climate Act in 2008, and the tenth report is a good time to stand back and review developments over the last decade.

It’s a mixed picture, it’s fair to say. Energy generation is the big success story, with emissions down 59% since 2008. That’s a combination of the gradual phasing out of coal power, and the rising percentage of renewable energy in the mix. Waste is also making good progress, with emissions from waste almost halved over the decade, mainly due to the landfill tax.

However, as the Committee says, “progress in the power sector masks a marked failure to decarbonise other sectors.”

Emissions from industry are down overall, but actually went up slightly last year. The buildings category has suffered from a string of policy reversals that have undermined renovation and efficiency. And emissions from transport, as we’ve noted before, are rising and have become the biggest source of emissions. The sector is, in the words of the report, “significantly off-track.”

What needs to be done about it? The most cost effective policies will be around demand reduction, avoiding the need to travel in the first place. There’s a need for more investment in public transport, more walking and cycling infrastructure. Since more active transport would be better for our health and wellbeing, there are multiple wins here and the government shouldn’t be shy about talking up walkable cities and cycling.

We could be adopting electric cars faster, and the government’s current target of phasing out all-petrol cars by 2040 is woefully unambitious. It will probably have happened naturally by then, with or without a target. Efficiency targets and environmental taxes have been going backwards recently, and offer an opportunity to raise standards and encourage drivers to choose cleaner cars. Vans matter too, as there’s been a sharp uptick in the number of vans on the road – partly to do with online shopping and deliveries.

The government gave the green light to a new runway at Heathrow in the same week that its climate change committee advised that it “publish a plan to limit UK aviation emissions.” So I’m not expecting any serious action on aviation – that may need more imaginative campaigning, including direct action.

Apparently the government has a strategy for low carbon transport in development. It was due to be published in March and it has been delayed. Hopefully that’s because they’re taking some extra time to make it robust and meaningful, and not because it’s a low priority. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to write about transport on mondays, and how Britain and the rest of the world can curb emissions from the transport sector.


  1. A reduction in energy usage can be seen on the small scale too! I talked about it happening in the Midwest in my last blog post. More efficient machines have helped reach carbon and other energy emissions standards, but it makes me wonder if we’ve really done anything to change the lifestyles or commercial habits that are causing these problems? I think it’s good to think about these things. Great post!

    1. Yes, there have been incremental improvements in technology, from more efficient refrigerators to LED lightbulbs. Those get us a little way, but only lifestyle change can deliver the cuts at the scale we need to see.

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