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No techno fix to tackling climate change from transport

6 March 2008
The Government has been prioritising the wrong areas for tackling climate change from the transport sector, according to research published today by some of the country’s leading environmental organisations [1].

Transport is the fastest growing source of UK carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but the research shows that the Government has been placing too much emphasis on expensive technological solutions for tackling climate change and downplaying cheaper effective solutions, such as school and workplace travel plans, personalised travel planning, speed reduction and cycle training. The research suggests that it’s both possible and effective to change people’s travel behaviour but the Government strategies do not recognise this – and neither do some transport professionals, who have recently claimed that technological solutions, not traffic reduction, are key to tackling CO2. [2]

Jason Torrance, campaigns director at Campaign for Better Transport, said: “The Government must tackle climate change by providing people with a simple and straightforward combination of information and real travel choices. Technology alone will not provide a quick fix to tackling climate change but must go hand in hand with enabling people to make changes in the way that they travel.”

The research smashes the myth that it is too difficult and expensive to reduce CO2 in the transport sector. It:


  • Shows that the belief is predicated on travel demand continuing to grow. The Government has not taken account of the emerging evidence on the potential for demand reduction. Many studies have concluded that demand management strategies are among the most cost-effective and are an essential part of the solution
  • Points out that the Government’s emphasis in research and policy is placed on technical solutions but analysis reveals these solutions to be more expensive than behavioural interventions such as smarter choices, fuel duty, sustainable distribution and the reduction of motorway speed limits
  • Explains that transport solutions often come out as more expensive because of the ‘rebound’ effect – that is, when the improvements result in people driving more or driving bigger cars. The research makes clear that any carbon reductions delivered through improved vehicle technology will be more effective if accompanied by complementary measures to lock in the carbon savings

Notes to editors
[1] The Cost-effectiveness of Carbon Abatement in the Transport Sector, (PDF 268K) by Jillian Anable, The Centre for Transport Policy, The Robert Gordon University. The research was funded by Campaign for Better Transport, Carplus, CTC, Friends of the Earth, Living Streets, Railfuture and Sustrans.


[2] On 13 February, the CSS (formerly County Surveyors’ Society) published Travel is Good, a report stating that transport planners should not constrain travel opportunities; and the president of the Institution of Highways & Transportation recently said that the biggest reductions in CO2 will come from technological developments (see Local Transport Today, issue 488).