Sustainable transport | Analysing different scenario to reduce UK personal transport emissions

This post identifies the reductions in UK carbon emissions that are required to prevent dangerous climate change, specifically the reductions that will be required in individual transport emissions. It is based on the review of a research for Transport of London [TfL] which developed different  scenarios of future transport evolution. The aim is to illustrate how travel patterns will need to be modified to ensure targets are achieved.

According to the Met Office, the biocapacity of our planet of absorbing CO2 emissions is decreasing and by 2030 will be reduced from the current 4 billion tonnes of carbon to 2.7 billion tonnes (1). The reduction in biocapacity coupled with a projected increase in global population means that carbon emissions per person should be no greater than 1.2 tonnes of CO2 per year. Given that the actual average UK footprint is around 10 tonnes CO2 per person per annum (2), a 90% reduction will be required. Transport accounts for 20% of the average persons’ carbon footprint (2 tonnes CO2 per capita per annum), and so the UK target for transport is a maximum of 240kg of C02 per capita per annum in 2030.

Transport kg CO2 per capita per annum

UK current average

2523

2030 global fair share

240

Scenario 1 – Car Dependent

From the transport research conducted by TfL it appears that UK is highly car dependent, being it the primary transport mode for the majority of people. The first scenario therefore assumes high car use for each purpose. A holiday to Spain by plane is also included. The related carbon dioxide impacts associated with each purpose are highlighted below.

Transport CO2 kg per capita

Scenario 1 – Car dependent

3455

UK current average

2523

2030 target

240

In total 21,436 kilometres were travelled in Scenario 1. As can be seen CO2 emissions are over 14 times higher than required for a 90% cut in the UK’s emissions. Clearly a significant change in transport modes and demand are needed.

Scenario 2 – Public Transport

In the second scenario all journeys were transferred to public transport; 62% of journeys were transferred to train and 38% were transferred to bus. Instead of flying, the trip to Spain is done by train. This helps to reduce CO2 impact quite significantly.

Transport CO2 kg per capita

Scenario 2 – Public transport

1840

UK current average

2523

2030 target

240

In total 21,436 kilometres were travelled in Scenario 2. Transferring all journeys from private car to public transport results in a CO2 reduction of 53% yet CO2 emissions are still over 7 times more than the 90% cut required in the UK.

The conclusion is that we travel too much from mechanised transport. In order  to work towards sustainable transport it is necessary to reduce transport demand and switch to sustainable alternatives where possible, such as walking and cycling.

Scenario 3 – Reduction and Sustainable Alternatives    

In this scenario overall transport demand is reduced by 46%. This is achieved through all groceries being ordered on line and delivered directly (whilst this will still have some impact, it can potentially significantly reduce emissions, for example, of the 20 people who are delivered to who would normally drive to the supermarket) and half of all non-grocery shopping trips are replaced through on line ordering and increased use of local facilities; commuting is halved through increased home working or relocation nearer to work; the distance travelled to visit friends is also halved, potentially through socialising more locally; a holiday is taken in Cornwall (by train) instead of Spain, resulting in an 88% reduction in transport demand. 23% of the remaining journeys are done by walking or cycling and 72% are done by public transport.

In total 12055 kilometres were travelled in Scenario 3. Although this scenario results in a significant decrease in emissions and footprint, CO2 emissions are almost 3 times more than the 90% cut required in the UK.

Transport CO2 kg per capita

Scenario 3 – Reduction and Sustainable Alternatives

687

UK current average

2523

2030 target

240

Reaching the carbon reduction targets needed is very difficul. For example if we are to meet these targets then we can only drive 932 kms a year (or 2.6 kms a day), without using any other energised transport modes. Even if all car journeys were switched to the rail which has lower CO2 emissions per km than the car, this would permit a maximum distance of 2669kms to be travelled per year, equivalent to 7.3kms per day to meet the UK’s 90% reduction target. This research has illustrated that if we are to meet the targets needed we will need to radically shift our transport patterns away from fossil-fuel based transport modes towards more localised, sustainable patterns such as walking and cycling. 

What do you think? Are you ready to completely change your travel patterns? To walk or cycle to work everyday? Or give up your once a year abroad holiday?

 For me it is a really hard decision. I am not leaving near my family and friends, because I am working in the UK, while they are in Italy. I know that the sustainable&right decision to make would be to visit them once or twice a year and take the train to travel over there. But what about my relationships with them? I think it’s being sustainable it’s not only a question of single decision [what type of food your eating, what commuting means you are using, etc.]; better, it’s not ONLY the sum of different actions, but it’s also a deeper questioning our selves about what matters to us and what are our priorities. Moreover, it is also a question of institutions and facilities; I’d can be happy of travelling to Turin by train, it doesn’t take so much longer [10 hours against the 8 by plain], but it cost 3 or 4 times…how I am supposed to put that in my budget?!

  1. Jones, C. D., Cox, P. M., et al. 2003. Strong carbon cycle feedbacks in a climate model with interactive CO2 and sulphate aerosols, Geophys. Res. Lett., 30(9), 1479
  2. Vaughan, A. (2009, 05.11.12). “Carbon emissions per person, by country.” from http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/datablog/2009/sep/02/carbon-emissions-per-person-capita.
  3. Francis, A. and H. Bell (2008). The Impact of Transport. Sustainable Transport Report. Wallington, BioRegional Consulting Ltd.
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