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Carbon, climate – what’s the emergency?

Now that Covid seems finally to be on the retreat, the question of what post-Covid normality is going to mean seems more urgent than ever, says Katie Hall, Systra

Katie Hall
14 April 2021
Katie Hall, Transport Planning Sector Director, SYSTRA
Katie Hall, Transport Planning Sector Director, SYSTRA


The pandemic has changed every aspect of our lives for more than a year, and very much so when it comes to transport. Entrenched travel habits have been disrupted, trains and buses emptied while bicycle sales boom. Millions have become used to working through online networks, far from the office, the season ticket and daily commute a distant memory.

But what the long-term effects of all this will be on our social organisation and, therefore, demand for and ways of using transport infrastructure is far from clear.

Join our webinar -  Carbon, Climate – What’s the Emergency? on Thursday 15th April between 9.30am and 11.00am: free registration here

For an organisation like SYSTRA, where modelling the future is part of the job, this presents a particularly sharp set of challenges. But challenges that are not, perhaps, as unique as they appear at first glance. One effect of the coronavirus disaster has been to overshadow, for a time at least, the other great emergency that has been confronting humanity for decades and which remains unsolved: the climate crisis.

The effects of climate change may creep up on us more slowly, but they will penetrate as deeply as the pandemic, last longer and, very likely, have more devastating consequences.

Transport is a major factor in climate change, accounting for at least 30% of greenhouse emissions in the UK and so this looming crisis has long been a major concern for SYSTRA and our clients. For more than 20 years we have developed and refined tools and techniques to better understand, predict and influence the impact of transport infrastructure and travel behaviour on carbon, climate and biodiversity.

The skills and knowledge necessary to provide effective and practical answers to such complex questions are well adapted to responding to the aftershocks of the coronavirus. But that does not mean there will be any simple answers, or even any simple questions. Which is why we are launching a series of Webinars to share the views of our experts and to encourage debate and idea sharing about these difficult questions.

The webinars will take place in the run up to the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, better known as COP26, which will be held in Glasgow this year on 1st – 12th November. The first webinar is scheduled for Thursday 15th April between 9.30am and 11.00am. The title of the session is  “Carbon, Climate – What’s the Emergency?” and you can sign up for free here

The webinar will tackle the hard questions of how the pandemic may help or hinder achievement of the government’s goal of net zero carbon by 2050 and whether the current tendency to view electric vehicles as a cure-all for climate is misguided. Is it time to start recognising the need to think harder about demand management and car-use pricing if we are serious about carbon targets? Is carbon offsetting all it is cracked up to be? What difference can we make as individuals, organisations or local authorities?

Our panel will consist of SYSTRA experts with a wide range of experience in climate issues and infrastructure planning and will be joined by other industry experts. Questions may be submitted before the session and there will be a Q&A following the panel presentations. 

We hope the debate generated by our webinar series will be wide-ranging and raise as many questions as it answers.

In a recent project with BP, SYSTRA surveyed attitudes and understanding in four European markets with lower carbon campaigns. A striking result of the survey was what could be called the optimism gap between industry experts and the general public when it came to de-carbonising and climate change. The public was much less optimistic that major targets could be achieved.

Perhaps this is down to less awareness of technological advances, distrust of authorities and targets, or failures of communication, but there is a clear danger of a vicious circle where a sense of pessimism discourages individuals from taking the sorts of actions and making the sorts of lifestyle changes that can achieve the positive outcome they prefer.

It is a disappointing result, but a challenge is also an opportunity. Climate change is a huge danger and decarbonising is a massive undertaking by itself, even leaving aside the many other questions of environment protection and regeneration that should be a fundamental part of our considerations. But we already have many of the tools to help us meet the danger and have shown that practical improvements can be made.

If we can make more people more aware of just what has been achieved and how much our sector is investing in going further, the vicious circle could be flipped to a virtuous one.

We hope that our climate-themed webinar series will be one positive contribution to that ambition. We plan another five events after the first, on topics such as planning for transport decarbonisation, meeting statutory carbon budgets, freight and logistics Implications and strategies, public transport futures and investing in a green recovery and we hope to see many of our colleagues and competitors in the industry joining in and moving the needle a little bit further to point towards a secure, green future.

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West Yorkshire Combined Authority
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Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
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Transport Capital Programme Director
West Yorkshire Combined Authority
Grade 15, £114,411 per annum
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