Sustainable transport | The impacts of transports on the environment in the UK

Most of us travel every day, even if only locally. The way we travel is damaging our cities and harming the environment. In the UK, emissions of CO2 from road transport are the fastest growing contributor to climate change.

The transport sector accounts for more than a quarter of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions in the UK.

Total UK GHG emissions in 2009 = 607.2 MtCO2e
Other: Public, Industrial processes, Waste management and Land Use and land use change and forestry
Source: National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI) [Personal re-elaboration]

According to the Department for Transport, private road vehicles are the biggest polluter, responsible for more than half of the total CO2 emissions for the transport sector (1). Replacing car travel with cycling, walking or public transport has many benefits: less congestion, better air quality, and less carbon emissions. Walking and cycling instead of using the car can also lead to fitter and healthier people.

Total UK domestic transport GHG emissions in 2009 = 122.2 MtCO2e
Other’ is mostly ‘military aircraft and shipping’, and also includes emissions from ‘aircraft support vehicles’ and from road vehicles running on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
Source: National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI) [Personale re-elaboration]

In 2005 UK population made 61 billion trips, spending a total of 2.5 million years travelling. An average resident of UK makes over 1,000 trips a year, travelling over 7,000 miles (1). Personal transport accounts for the highest proportion of household expenditure (approximately 14% of the average household income (2).

Average miles travelled per person in the UK by purpose.
As can be seen, most personal travel falls under visiting friends at private homes, commuting and shopping.

As can be seen in the picture above. commuting trips accounted for just under a fifth of total UK personal transport in 2005 (1). Of the 29 million people in employment an estimated 11% work from home at least some of the time, whilst 89% always travel to work. In 2001, 49% of commuting trips originated in, and 55% were destined for, the largest urban areas. Whilst economic activity and households are concentrated in urban areas, people often choose to live away from their workplace. This is a result of dispersed land use [which has many causes and is not of interest of the present post, but would be interesting to deepen], that ha the effect of increasing car dependency and travel distances.

Commuting trip length is strongly associated with the mode of transport chosen and the type of infrastructure used. Whilst walking and cycling are ideal for very short trips, and public transport can offer competitive journey times for longer trips to urban areas, in most instances the car is the mode of choice for commuters. In addition, it is common that there are very few people passenger per car, the vast majority of people driving alone to work [DMU has a great system of car sharing! For staff and students].

Average trips by purpose and main model.
The car is currently the dominant mode for all purposes, with car drivers being higher than passengers, indicating that for the majority of journeys cars are solely occupied. This significantly contributes towards the ecological impact of personal transport.

There are a range of strategies proposed to reduce the ecological impact of current transport patterns, some of which are outlined below. Before examining sustainable alternatives, it is vital to first of all minimise transport demand, as we live on a finite world and need to reduce our ecological footprint byt two thirds.

  • Reducing Transport Needs
  • Providing and promoting sustainable transport options
  • Alternative vehicles
  • Alternative fuels

I will go deeply in analysing each of this opportunities in following posts.

  1. Department for Transport (2009). UK transport greenhouse gas emissions. Factsheet.
  2. Francis, A. and H. Bell (2008). The Impact of Transport. Sustainable Transport Report. Wallington, BioRegional Consulting Ltd.
  3. Office of National Statistics (2006). Family spending 2005-06
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