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Achieving net zero to avoid further climate emergency implications

Duncan Irons
04 October 2023
Duncan Irons: Spoiler alert: Vehicle technology alone will not reduce our emissions quickly enough to meet our greenhouse gas emissions obligation
Duncan Irons: Spoiler alert: Vehicle technology alone will not reduce our emissions quickly enough to meet our greenhouse gas emissions obligation
 

Developing feasible and deliverable transport solutions that meet net zero commitments is a considerable challenge for local authorities, particularly in an era of limited public funding and within the timescales required to limit the further impacts of the Climate Emergency.

Many of us would love to believe that the required reduction in fossil fuel vehicle emissions by 2030 will be delivered by the growing number of electric vehicles (EVs) on our roads. Spoiler alert: Vehicle technology alone will not reduce our emissions quickly enough to meet our greenhouse gas emissions obligation.

Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles will still make up around 75% of the car fleet on the road in 2030, this may now be even higher with the recent relaxation of the rules on the sales of these vehicles to 2035. If traffic levels remain at current levels, vehicle technology will generate a reduction of around 30% in tail-pipe emissions and not the 50% reduction in these emissions required for typical NetZero trajectories. A typical new ICE vehicle purchased today is likely to generate around 15-years’ worth of fossil fuel emissions and perhaps more, if a significant proportion of vehicle owners resist the transition to EVs.

The gap between what technology can deliver and what is required to meet net zero commitments will therefore have to be filled by an unprecedented level of behavioural change to achieve a significant reduction in the use of private vehicles.

To create this behaviour change within the required timescales to limit the impacts of the Climate Emergency will not be easy for local authorities with strategies requiring a multi-faceted approach that is a step change from previous transport strategies. This will require both carrots and sticks including:

  • Significant investment in sustainable transport alternatives, to provide viable alternatives to the private vehicle for all communities and trip types
  • Increases in the cost of private car use, particularly the use of ICE vehicles, possibly through the introduction of charging regimes
  • Integration of land use and transport policy making and the creation of liveable and sustainable communities which provide access to day-to-day amenities without the use of private vehicles.

Local community and business engagement will be critical in the development of successful strategies, to explain the implications of the actions that need to be taken for their day-to-day activities and also to broaden understanding of the wider impacts of missing the climate emergency targets, to take communities with the local authorities on the journey to net zero.

Climate Emergency strategies will require local authorities to commit resources and funding to develop and implement, all undertaken over a relatively short period of time using a range of capabilities some of which may be new to Local Authority teams or in short supply within the industry as a whole. The journey to a zero-carbon world will not be easy but it is essential that we start that journey now if there is to be a viable future for our planet.

Duncan Irons is market director at SYSTRA. Meet him at the Local Transport Summit

Transport Planning and Strategy Manager
Warrington Borough Council
Warrington
£54,713 - £56,868
Policy and Strategy Officer
Transport for the North
Manchester
£43,936 - £50,617
Transport Planning and Strategy Manager
Warrington Borough Council
Warrington
£54,713 - £56,868
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