Taking the carbon out of transport

Climate change leapt high on the political agenda in 2019 and over 300 local authorities in the UK responded by declaring a climate emergency. While these declarations are an important first step to recognise the scale and urgency of the challenge facing society, what local authorities should do next is not so clear.

Transport accounts for a third of the UK’s CO2 emissions, a proportion that has been steadily rising since 1990, but around 85 per cent of local authorities who declared a climate emergency have set no transport targets. To address this, the Local Government Association (LGA) worked with experts at the University of Leeds to help local authorities identify what action they could be taking to progress their transport path towards net zero.

The work was funded by the LGA with support from DecarboN8 – a network of local authorities, transport bodies, industry and universities across the North of England which is creating a test bed for new initiatives to decarbonise transport. The network’s Director is Professor Greg Marsden from the University’s Institute for Transport Studies.

“Central to the work of DecarboN8 is a place-based approach,” says Professor Marsden. “This recognises that different solutions may be needed for different areas, while also acknowledging that sometimes you need to join things up to get benefits of scale.”

For the LGA project, Professor Marsden teamed up with Professor Jillian Anable – also from the Institute for Transport Studies and co-Director of the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) which also helped to fund the project. They were joined by Richard Walker, a transport planning and policy specialist at the Department for Transport, currently seconded to DecarboN8. The team ran workshops in London and Leeds with representatives from different local authorities from across the UK. These discussed what targets local authorities were considering setting and what actions they felt were required, to help the researchers to identify the councils’ main priorities and any areas that weren’t yet under consideration.  The team then drew up a series of science-led briefing notes on priority areas, filling any important gaps, to help local authorities develop their targets and plans.

“We needed to understand the stage local authorities were at in order to pitch the briefing notes at the right level, and the workshops gave us that understanding,” says Professor Marsden. “We soon realised that most local authorities weren’t fully aware of the scale of action that would be required. So we’ve written one briefing note on what a climate emergency means for transport, the year-on-year reductions required and what councils should be aiming for.”

Actions that local authorities can take include using planning decisions to site housing or other services to reduce the need to travel, creating cycle and bus lanes to shift journeys onto lower carbon forms of transport or moving to electric vehicles for zero carbon journeys.

These measures and more are laid out in briefing notes covering cycling, buses, electric vehicles, parking, planning and ‘virtual substitution’ of transport, such as working from home or online delivery. Each one is supplemented by a webinar led by Professor Marsden, Professor Anable and Richard Walker, which is recorded and made available to all LGA members.

Kamal Panchal, Senior Advisor at the LGA who leads on transport policy, says: “Our aim with this project was to help councils by making it really clear to them the policy choices and actions they should take and how quickly they need to do it. Involving renowned experts like Greg and Jillian helps get that message across and gives it authority and credibility. Their factual approach and depth of knowledge came across in the webinars and is really appreciated by the delegates.”

DecarboN8 is supported by a £1.2 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation. The network is funding seedcorn projects across the UK focusing on different aspects of transport decarbonisation. 

Read more about our transport energy systems research theme