Sussex academics respond to UK’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan

University of Sussex

A blue sign pointing the route of a cycle lane to an airport

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University of Sussex Business School academics have been reacting to the publication of the UK Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan.

The plan includes a consultation on a pledge to end the sale of all new, polluting road vehicles by 2040 and net zero aviation emissions by 2050.

Energy Policy expert Professor Noam Bergman criticises the Government for relying too heavily on technology to reduce emissions and failing to acknowledge that systemic and widespread behavioural change is also essential to meet ambitious targets.

Prof Bergman, Lecturer in Energy Policy in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School, said that the UK Government is failing to meet the expectations of the public who are asking for bolder and more immediate changes to move away from current unsustainable behaviours.

Meanwhile, Dr Max Lacey-Barnacle is critical of the absence of any reference to tackling transport poverty in the newly-published plan.

Dr Lacey-Barnacle, Research Fellow in Energy Justice in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School, said the UK Government needs to show how zero emission transport solutions can meet the twin goals of transport decarbonisation and widening access to affordable public transport services in underserved regions and ‘left behind’ areas.

Prof Bergman said: “While it is good to see the government fleshing out more of its low-carbon transport strategy, there are still limitations to its approach.

“Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Parliament: ‘It’s not about stopping people doing things: it’s about doing the same things differently. We will still fly on holiday, but in more efficient aircraft, using sustainable fuel. We will still drive, but increasingly in zero emission cars.'”

“Therein lies the rub. The underlying assumption here is that technology is the solution, and all we have to do is buy a ‘clean’ car or a ticket on a ‘clean’ plane, but not change our practices or behaviour.

“This approach risks undermining efforts for a deeper transformation of transport, including creating walkable neighbourhoods with local services; and ensuring the continued ability to work from home, building on COVID-induced changes, to reduce the need to commute.

“These and other measures could save energy and emissions, and help create the ‘cleaner, quieter cities and communities for better quality of life’ that the Government aspires to.

“The results from the IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission citizens’ juries clearly indicate that people in the UK want bold climate action, and would like the government to act faster – including making it easier to get around without a car.

“In contrast, the ‘greenprint’ promises action years and decades in the future. Ambitious action with communities having a say on greening their transport options should start now.”

Dr Lacey-Barnacle said: “Unsurprisingly and in keeping with current UK transport policy, the Transport Decarbonisation plan contains no mention of transport poverty, despite a huge body of academic research into this area, with a large amount of work focusing on the UK.

“Transport poverty can be understood as an inability to attain a socially and materially necessitated level of transport services, due to a lack of access, affordability or mobility.

“Interestingly, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps himself acknowledges the importance of access to transport for everyday life and for providing equal opportunities across space and places in the UK:

‘Transport is not just how you get around. It is something that fundamentally shapes our towns, cities and countryside, our living standards and our health. It can shape all those things for good or for bad. Decarbonisation is not just some technocratic process. It’s about how we make sure that transport shapes quality of life’

“As we’re exploring in the FAIR project, access to transport services is key, but affordability is also vital to widen access and inclusion.

“It is not only possible, but hugely desirable, for transport poverty to be tackled by zero emission transport solutions that meet the twin goals of transport decarbonisation and widening access to affordable public transport services in underserved regions and ‘left behind’ areas.

“Much more recognition of these twin aims needs to underpin transport policy going forward, as does an explicit integration of transport poverty concerns into future strategies.”

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