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New Study: U.K. Transport Emissions Can Be Cut 76 Percent by 2050
"The Shambles" street in York is reputed to be Europe's best-preserved medieval street, and was recently voted Britain's most pisturesque. It is also very walkable. Researchers in York want to take this level of livability to scale around the UK. Photo via tj.blackwell.

"The Shambles" street in York, U.K., is reputed to be Europe's best-preserved medieval street and was recently voted Britain's most picturesque. It is also very walkable. Researchers in York want to take this level of livability to scale around the U.K. Photo via tj.blackwell.

“This project marks a significant break with traditional thinking that regards transport as too hard to deal with when it comes to greenhouse gas reduction.” — Prof. John Whitelegg, co-author of “Towards a Zero Carbon Vision for UK Transport

A new study released by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and University of York outlines how the U.K. can cut transport sector greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 76 percent in the next forty years. The study, entitled “Towards a Zero Carbon Vision for UK Transport” (PDF), breaks down the 76 percent potential reductions as follows:

  • 100 percent  in road transport (cars and trucks)
  • 100 percent  in rail transport
  • 56 percent  in aviation
  • 49 percent  in shipping

Transport sector emissions presently account for a quarter of total GHG emissions in the U.K., and they are the fastest growing emissions sector. In this report, researchers highlight the necessity of a dramatic shift in urban planning and policies, arguing that such a shift could reduce transport sector emissions much more than people imagine. All predicted reductions are founded on already available experiences demonstrating that the reductions can be achieved.The authors recommend a national policy focused on developing livable communities where daily tasks can be taken care of on foot, bicycle or public transit. They also call for innovative regional approaches to production and consumption  (to reduce road freight) and a new pricing system for transport (to implement the “polluter pays principle.”) Other emissions-reducing measures include the full de-carbonization of the U.K.’s energy supply, as envisaged by the Climate Change Committee, and a full switch to electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

If all of these policies are implemented as the study outlines, authors say the 76 percent decrease in transport sector carbon emissions by 2050 is possible.  And these changes would also bring social boons, including economic gains, more cohesive communities, dramatically improved road safety, and higher quality of life with lower air and noise pollution across the nation.

Co-author John Whitelegg said of the study, “We have shown that the potential is much greater than anyone previously thought and that reductions in emissions go hand-in-hand with improvements in air quality, health and economic success.”

The study is making waves across the UK. Government ministers and leading transport organizations and officials have received copies, along with British Airways and discount airlines including EasyJet and RyanAir.

These discount airlines’ cheap flights have contributed to a sharp increase in what environmentally minded Britons call “binge flying.”  If left unchecked, people’s penchant for flying could counteract any of the U.K.’s other efforts to reduce transport sector carbon emissions.  In an effort to combat binge flying and thereby cut GHG emissions, Britain’s coalition government, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, abruptly canceled plans to build a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport this summer. Cameron also preempted plans to build new runways at London’s secondary airports — Gatwick and Stansted — saying he would not approve new runways for them, either. Now if only highway engineers would consider building fewer roads…

The study’s conclusions are universal, to a certain extent, showing that transport sector emissions can be dramatically reduced around the world with the proper “spacial, technological, fiscal and behavioral changes.”

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