Take a deep breath – What we learnt about air pollution in 2016

 

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAfBAAAAJDgxZjFlMDk5LTE3M2ItNDBmYS1iZjc4LTJiNjZjMTRlMmE3Yg.jpg

Beijing, LondonMexico CityNew Delhi and Paris are among the cities that have drawn attention for their dangerously high air pollution levels in 2016 – but they’re not alone. The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that 92% of the world’s urban population now live in cities where the air is toxic.

In India, a study found that 41 Indian cities of more than a million people faced bad air quality on nearly 60% of the total days monitored. Three cities – Gwalior, Varanasi and Allahabad – didn’t even manage one good air quality day.

Over on the African continent, dirty air was identified as the cause of 712,000 premature deaths – that’s more than unsafe water (542,000), childhood malnutrition (275,000) or unsafe sanitation (391,000).

In Europe, it was found that around 85% of the urban population are exposed to harmful fine particulate matter (PM2.5) which was responsible for an estimated 467,000 premature deaths in 41 European countries.

It’s not all bad news though: 74 major Chinese cities have seen the annual average concentrations of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, decrease since 2014 although the Chinese government’s “war on air pollution” has received criticism.

Health risk

The health impacts of air pollution are well documented; but now, new evidence suggests a link between air pollution and dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, with exposure to poor air quality equivalent to passively smoking six cigarettes a day. Not only that, toxic air has been blamed for more road traffic crashes from pollutants distracting drivers, causing watery eyes and itchy noses.

It is often poor, young, old and disadvantaged people who are worst affected by poor air quality. Air pollution is responsible for the deaths of 600,000 children under the age of five every year. Ethnic minorities were more likely to be exposed to high pollution levels than other groups. In London, black, African and Caribbean people were exposed to higher illegal nitrogen dioxide levels (15.3%) because of where they lived, compared to the rest of the city’s population (13.3%).

Air pollution also affects regional climate, which impacts on future water availabilityand ecosystem productivity. Black carbon is a particulate matter created through the burning of fossil fuels (such as diesel) and biomass. As well as effecting human health, it is responsible for glacial melting in the Himalayan and Tibetan Plateau. Black carbon deposits on snow and ice darkens surfaces, resulting greater absorption of sunlight and faster melting.

Research from the World Bank estimated that the global economic cost of air pollution-related deaths to be US$225 billion in lost labour income (in 2013) and more than US$5 trillion in welfare losses. The OECD predicted that global air pollution-related healthcare costs will increase from US$21 billion in 2015 to US$176 billion in 2060. And by 2060, the global annual number of lost working days that affect labour productivity is projected to reach 3.7 billion – it is currently around 1.2 billion.

Air creative

A number of creative ways of understanding and addressing the air pollution problem were seen throughout 2016. In London, racing pigeons took to the skies equipped with pollution sensors and a Twitter account, to raise awareness of the capital’s illegally dirty air. Amsterdam carried on the bird theme, with smart bird houses that light up to show the air quality status, while offering free Treewifi.

Other innovations included the development of an inexpensive over-the-counter inhaler that protects the lungs against air pollution, and the installation of a seven-metre tall tower in Beijing, which sucks pollutants from filthy air.

Raising awareness of the causes and effects of air pollution is important, as we are not only victims, but also contributors to the problem. There have also been many air quality monitoring projects to engage citizens on air pollution issue such as “curious noses”, which saw Antwerp residents measure traffic pollution and “clean air zones” in North Carolina, US, where individuals measured particulate matter in real time.

We’ve also seen awareness lead to action, when the demand for clean air led to ClientEarth taking legal action against government failure to tackle illegal air pollution. Meanwhile, artists in London produced their own campaigns, aimed at warning young people of the effects of poor air quality.

Change is in the air

This year the UN’s New Urban Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Breathe Life Campaign called for action to improve urban air quality and deliver social, environmental and economic co-benefits.

Meanwhile, Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens have pledged to remove all diesel vehicles from their streets by 2025, while promoting walking and cycling infrastructure. In Asia, a city certification programme is being piloted to encourage cities to make advances in air quality management.

If anything, 2016 has showed us that poor air quality is a scourge of the developed and developing world alike – and that it requires immediate action. The evidence is clear: we need to clean up our act, to protect human health and reap the benefits of clean air for all.

This Article first appeared in The Conversation

Back On The Agenda: Acting Locally and Thinking Globally to Achieve Clean Air

The majority of us now live in cities.

While urban living provides benefits with regard to mobility, accessibility and community, it has come with a cost to the air we breathe. An estimated 92% of the world’s population now living in areas where air quality exceeds World Health Organization limits causing as many as 3 million deaths a year.

In particular, many developing world cities are grappling with the combined pressures of urbanization, motorization and industrialization and climate-related weather events which are overwhelming the natural resilience of urban ecosystems.

Given these multiple challenges what action can cities take to achieve clean air, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, implement the New Urban Agenda and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals?

Recognizing the Problem

Air pollution is a silent killer.

It is the deadliest form of pollution and the fourth leading risk factor for premature deaths worldwide with both indoor and outdoor air pollution responsible for an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6% of all global deaths). Nearly 90% of air-pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly 2 out of 3 occurring in WHO’s South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions.

It is often the poor and socially marginalized that suffer disproportionately from the effects of deteriorating air quality with around 300 million Children currently exposed to toxic air that exceeds internationally limits by at least six times.

300 million Children are currently exposed to toxic air.

It is easy to read such figures with a detached concern. However, if just one of these faceless air-pollution-related deaths was our mother, brother, sister, daughter or son we would soon feel the devastating emotional and personal impact caused by air pollution.

If that was not enough, air pollution also comes with an economic price tag. The World Bank estimate air pollution related deaths cost the global economy about US$225 billion in lost labour income in 2013. The OECD predict that global air pollution-related healthcare costs will increase from USD 21 billion in 2015 to USD 176 billion 2005 in 2060. By 2060, the annual number of lost working days, which affect labour productivity, are projected to reach 3.7 billion (currently around 1.2 billion) at the global level.

While reductions may be achieved for certain pollutants others are becoming more difficult to address due to the absence of a well-developed infrastructure, integrated planning and financial resources to restore environmental quality. Therefore ambitious action is required to achieve reductions in the human and economic cost of air pollution.

 Cities For All

In recognition of an increasingly urban world and the need to achieve sustainable development in practice two UN global agendas have been adopted which sets out a pathway to a more sustainable future for all.

The 2016 UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda acknowledges the challenges of an increasingly urban world and sets out a road map for building cities that can serve as engines of prosperity and centres of cultural and social well-being while protecting the environment. It aims to:

  • Provide basic services for all citizens
  •  Ensure that all citizens have access to equal opportunities and face no discrimination
  •  Promote measures that support cleaner cities
  • Strengthen resilience in cities to reduce the risk and the impact of disasters
  • Take action to address climate change by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions
  • Fully respect the rights of refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons regardless of their migration status
  • Improve connectivity and support innovative and green initiatives
  • Promote safe, accessible and green public spaces.

The 2015 New Urban Agenda is seen as an extension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that outlined 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) needed to make the transition towards a low carbon society.

The New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals provide the road map to a Sustainable Future

Although air pollution is included in both the New Urban Agenda and the SDGs, it is not necessarily prominent. Yet many of the local actions taken to improve urban air quality can have multiple social, environmental and economic co-benefits.

Acting Locally, Thinking Globally

Although the exact origin of the phrase, Acting Locally, Thinking Globally, is disputed, it is often associated with the environmental movement which used it to urge individuals to consider the health of the entire planet and to take action in their own communities and cities.

Like many slogans it had its prominence only to go out of fashion. Yet, given the air pollution and climate change challenges we face it is more relevant now than ever.

The notion of Act Locally, Think Globally is more relevant than ever given the challenge of poor air quality and climate change

Major sources of air pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and lead) include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities.

The majority of these activities are undertaken at the city level which are responsible for around 70 per cent of global greenhouse gases. Equally, we have seen climate-related weather events such as storms; floods and heatwaves impact on the urban populations and disrupt services.

While carbon dioxide has warming influences on the climate in the long-term; short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, a primary component of particulate matter, methane and ozone have warming influences in the near-term.

Taking action on these pollutants have the potential to improve air quality and reduce the effects of climate change. Local measures such as reducing car use, improving public transport, increasing energy efficiency and adopting low emission technologies can result in health, environmental and social co-benefits.

 Role of the Citizen

It is easy to seen urban dwellers simply as casualties of poor air quality but they are also contributors to the problem. Therefore the attitudes and behaivour of citizens are important to instilling change and ensuring local policy-makers take the necessary action.

Citizens have a role to play in monitoring air quality.

Public participation in all matters related to the urban environment is becoming an important issue. The talents and support from different sectors of society is needed if we are to improve the air the breathe, tackle climate change and ensure a sustainable development. Goal 16 of the SDGs acknowledges this by calling for responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making at all levels.

Citizens have a role to play in monitoring environmental change as well as being agents of change in their community. There are many examples of citizen-led air quality monitoring schemes such as the UK Friends of the Earth which are encouraging citizens to take action to monitor air quality where they live.

The World Health Organization and Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Breathe Life campaign aims to mobilize cities and individuals around the world to protect human health and environment from the effects of air pollution

However, raising awareness does not always translate into sustained behaviour change and a improvement in air quality. We are complex beings fraught with contradictions. While we like the idea of a clean and green environment that is fine as long as it does not inconvenience us by requiring a change in the way we live.

Selling the Sizzle

If cities are to achieve better air quality then we require setting out a vision that inspires citizen action. To some extent this is a marketing job which requires selling the sizzle of a clean and green city.

US Marketeer, Elmer Wheeler, coined the term “Don’t Sell The Steak – Sell The Sizzle” to inspire people to buy a product. Selling the steak is boring but selling the smell, taste and associated lifestyle inspires consumers and catches the imagination.

We need to set out a vision for citizen action on air pollution.

The same principles are relevant for achieving cleaner cities. If we talk simply about action to reduce emissions such as banning cars or creating low emission zones these are the ‘Steak’ and are far less appealing than the sizzle of a safe, clean and accessible city for all.

Both the New Urban Agenda and the 2030 SDG Agenda set out that vision, it is now down the cities to harness citizen power to make this vision a reality. A guiding principle must be act locally, think globally as this will lead us closer to  greener inclusive cities where we all can breathe clean air.

 

Can Car Labelling Lead to Better Air Quality and Lower Carbon Emissions?

b739246960d722c9ba9989ba5ae75a2b

Environmental labelling of products and services has been used as a way to ‘nudge’ consumers to make greener choices but can car labelling lead to lower vehicles emissions and better air quality?

Car labelling was introduced in 1992 to inform European consumers about the fuel consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of new passenger cars enabling them to contribute to achieving a 40% reduction in economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

Reducing transport emissions has health and climate protection benefits. The 250 million passenger cars in use in the European Union (EU) account for 14% of the final energy use and 12% of the fuel-related CO2 emissions. Therefore increasing the fuel efficiency of cars can reduce urban air pollutants, CO2 emissions and fuel costs.

Energy labelling has been successful in encouraging consumers to purchase energy efficient domestic appliances (e.g., refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers and washing machines) with 90% of appliances sold in the EU now labelled as class A.

Although causality is difficult to establish, estimates suggest that the EU energy label has contributed to CO2 emission reductions of some 14 Mt annually over the period 1996 and 2004. However, an estimated 10% of energy savings are lost due to poor enforcement and a lack of cooperation and application across EU Member States.

When it comes to buying a new car, consumers consider factors such as price, fuel consumption, comfort, size, reliability, safety, engine power as well as brand and image. Although environmental attributes listed in a car label, information about fuel consumption and environmental impacts appear to be less important than other factors (e.g., price or hauling capacity) in the choice of a car model Moreover, information on fuel consumption can be perceived by consumers in an ambiguous manner.

A review of the current status of car labelling in the EU found that EU Member States rely either directly or indirectly on the distance-specific CO2 emissions [g/km] determined in the laboratory test procedures. However, laboratory testing has come under criticism for being unrepresentative of real-world driving and therefore underestimates the actual on-road CO2 emissions of cars.

The gap between the distance-specific CO2 emissions measured in the laboratory and on the road has been widening in the past decade and reached 31-49% in 2014. This observation suggests that the data underlying car labelling in the EU systematically underestimate both fuel costs and environmental impacts.

For example, an average European gasoline car is labelled with 129 g CO2/km and a fuel consumption of 5.6 l/100 km. However, on the road this vehicle may actually emit 169-193 g CO2/km and consume 7.3-8.3 l/100 km of fuel (assuming a gap of 31-49% between the certified and actual on-road fuel consumption) resulting in increased yearly fuel cost and CO2 emissions.

Such discrepancies risk consumers losing trust in the claims of the car label, which, in turn, could undermine the current and future efforts to reduce CO2 emissions from passenger cars.

In addition, the different methodologies used by EU member states to translate CO2 emission values into label classes has resulted in differences in the labelling for efficient medium size to luxury cars.

Not only that, the current European car labelling schemes unable to differentiate vehicles that emit between zero and 95-100 g CO2/km. This shortcoming will become of increasing importance as hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars are being promoted as a solution to poor urban air quality.

Finally, although consumer awareness of the European car label is steadily growing, it still remains low with comprehension affecting both familiarity and trust in the label.

More than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed World Health Organization (WHO) limits with vehicle emissions being a key contributor to poor air quality. To move towards a more sustainable transport system we need to promote walking, cycling and public transport as well as clean and efficient fuels and vehicles.

The car will always have a role in society and therefore if consumers want to buy a car then they should go for the greener and cleaner vehicle. Car labelling could be influential in purchasing decisions but it has to be accurate and reflect emissions and fuel consumption under real-world conditions.

Despite these limitations, car labelling should be part of an overall strategy to reduce transport-related CO2 emissions and increase  societal well-being.

The Challenge of Transport in Sub-Saharan Africa

ImageTRANSPORT is a key challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa. It is critical importance to the delivery of sustainable cities, healthy citizens, poverty eradication and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. So how can Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries address the challenge of sustainable transport?

Road safety in Africa as a whole is extremely poor having approximately 3 per cent of the world’s motor vehicles yet accounting for 11 per cent of global road fatalities. Traffic congestion in SSA cities is on the rise with some cities approaching gridlock. The urban populations of SSA are growing rapidly, faster than in all other regions of the world, and this situation is expected to continue over the next two decades.

Urban air pollution in major SSA cities is rapidly worsening due to vehicle fleet growth, increasing distances travelled, and high rates of polluting vehicle emissions from vehicles. Globally, transport accounts for approximately 25 per cent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and reducing emissions from the on-road transportation sector can yield rapid and longer-term climate benefits. Yet published data on traffic congestion, air pollution, including greenhouse gases, and road safety tend to be of poor quality in SSA.

This is an issue which is partly being addressed by the Transport Environment-Science Technology (TEST) Network. A EU funded Network led by the Stockholm Environment Institute Institute and European Institute for Sustainable Transport working in partnership with universities in South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The TEST Network aims to support Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries in formulating and implementing sustainable transport policies which contribute to poverty reduction and sustainable economic development.

ImageA new report written by a panel of international experts, examines the transport and environment challenges in SSA countries. The report states that transport policy decisions and the detailed spatial, sectoral and social beneficiaries of transport spending and strategies have a hugely important impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people in SSA.

There are a large number of well documented ways in which we can improve the quality of life of Africa’s citizens. We can improve air quality and public health, remove the scourge and distress caused by death, injury and disability as a result of road crashes and increase the likelihood of widely disseminated economic gains to all sections of society.

In this social-technical-economic complex there are important democratic considerations. What do African citizens want for the future of their families, their communities their regions and their country? Given a choice of living in poverty, pollution, traffic danger and poor quality access to important health, education and training opportunities or living in a thriving, opportunity-rich, clean and safe environment it is already very clear that the latter is preferable to the former.

ImageThe TEST report argues that transport policy for SSA must be embedded in a poverty eradication policy and poverty eradication must deliver real gains in transport as it affects 800 million SSA citizens. This policy synergy provides a huge opportunity to deliver successful outcomes and they will not deliver if they move along in non-communicating parallel tracks.

The report  makes recommendations for the development of sustainable transport policies in SSA based on five central principles:

  1. Maximizing transport accessibility for all social groups, genders and income levels, so that all citizens can access health care, education, training and jobs with minimal effort, costs and journey time;
  2. Creating a safe, secure urban environment with the minimum possible risk of death and injury from road accidents;
  3. Ensuring that all public health measures deal with the debilitating and costly consequences of air pollution on human health;
  4. Freeing up urban road space by improving traffic flow conditions in a way that stimulates economic activity and job creation and avoids the generation of new traffic; and
  5. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

SSA has some very serious transport problems but these present all decision-takers and policy makers with opportunities to re-shape traditional policies to produce a step-change improvement in quality of life for citizens and to deliver the urgently needed poverty alleviation outcomes already agreed.

Policies and interventions can be re-shaped and the task now is to orchestrate the political and professional support and unwavering commitment to deliver all these virtuous outcomes.

© Gary Haq 2012

Is Speed Reduction a Solution to the Oil Crisis?

The Middle East crisis forces up prices at the pumps, Spain has lowered its national speed limit to achieve a 15 per cent saving in fuel use. This has been seen as an exceptional measure for an exceptional situation. But will it work, and should Britain do the same?

AS the Middle East crisis forces up prices at the pumps, Spain has lowered its national speed limit to achieve a 15 per cent saving in fuel use.

This has been seen as an exceptional measure for an exceptional situation. But will it work, and should other countries do the same?

The Spanish government has reduced the speed limit on main roads from 75mph (120 km/h) to 68mph (110 km/h) in an attempt to reduce fuel use. This has been in response to the unrest in Libya and concern that it will spread elsewhere in the Arab world. Spain is dependent on imported oil, with about 13 per cent coming from Libya.

The reduction in the speed limit is part of a wider package of measures to reduce energy use. As people spend more money on foreign fuel, they have less to spend on buying products made in Spain which could slow the recovery of the Spanish economy.

However, critics see lowering the speed limit as a desperate measure and are sceptical it will achieve the savings the Spanish government claims.

US President Richard Nixon took similar action in 1973 in response to the oil crisis then. He introduced a speed limit of 55mph (90 km/h) in 1974 in a bid to reduce fuel consumption by 2.2 per cent.

The measure only achieved a fuel saving of about 0.5 per cent but had the additional benefit of reducing road deaths. In contrast, France tested the strict enforcement of speed limits on main motorways in 2004 and achieved a 19 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

In the UK, petrol now costs on average about £6 a gallon. However, rather than reducing the speed limit, the Conservative-led coalition has actually talked about increasing it. Recently, the UK Transport Secretary Philip Hammond was reported to have suggested increasing motorway speeds to 80mph in an attempt to shorten journey times and help the economy.

This is despite the UK Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety claiming that raising the speed limit to 80mph would increase motorway casualties by between five and 10 per cent.

Lowering the speed limit will be a challenge, as many petrolheads will perceive it as an infringement of their human rights and another attack in the “war on the motorist”. According to a 2008 UK Department for Transport study on speed, drivers can be divided into three groups: speed limit compliant, moderate or excessive speeders. Excessive speeders tend to be young, male, risky drivers who are often involved in accidents.

The UK study also found that a substantial number of drivers report that they regularly break speed limits of 30, 60 and 70 mph.

At speeds of 50mph and above, drivers tend to over-estimate the time gained by going faster and the time lost by going slower. In order to encourage people to drive at lower speeds, this “speed-time fallacy” will need to be addressed.

Reducing speed is seen as a quick hit as it relatively easy to implement. It requires little legislative and capital investment and can achieve rapid savings in fuel consumption as well as cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

A lower speed limit will, of course, increase travel time, which will further depend on road conditions, weather, traffic congestion and roadworks. Despite this, limiting the speed at which we drive offers a number of social and environmental benefits.

The exact fuel and carbon dioxide savings of reducing the speed limit are influenced by vehicle weight, engine and fuel type, driving style and traffic flow conditions. Increasingly, optional extras such as air conditioning have increased the average fuel use of a car.

According to the UK Energy Research Centre, introducing and enforcing a 60mph speed limit could reduce carbon dioxide emission on average by about two million tonnes each year.

In addition, becoming a “smarter driver” and being conscious of how to drive efficiently has the additional benefits of reducing annual fuel bills, wear and tear on the vehicle and can result in safer and less stressful journeys.

By 2030, global oil production is expected to decline as demand increases. The exact timing of the tipping point when oil availability begins to decline, and the ensuing rate of that decline is debateable.

However, there is increasing recognition that the “peak oil” phenomenon is real. National and local governments have all already begun designing policies to cope with the lack of cheap oil – with Sweden committing to be oil free by 2020.

Reducing the speed limit will be the least of our problems as we will be forced to make more fundamental changes to our energy intensive lifestyles in order to adapt to a world of increasing energy insecurity.

© Gary Haq 2011

A Zero Carbon Transport Vision

The transport sector has enormous potential to deliver greenhouse gas reductions. However, just how much can we reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport?

The transport sector has enormous potential to deliver greenhouse gas reductions. However, just how much can we reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport?

Transport offers many benefits in terms of freedom, independent mobility and accessibility. Yet this comes at a cost such as air polluting emissions which contribute to local air pollution and climate change.

There are two key challenges that require the reduction of oil use within transport and resulting carbon dioxide emissions to be kept to an absolute minimum. Firstly, transport is extremely dependent on oil and there is a likelihood that there will be not be much oil left in 2050 compared to today. Secondly, climate change rises important issues around re-engineering transport systems so that they are less vulnerable to the damaging consequences of climate change and can play a full role in reducing greenhouse gases.

A number of studies have attempted to look at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the transport sector. These include the OECD Environmentally Sustainable Transport study(2002), Visioning and Backcasting for UK Transport Policy study (2007) and the Campaign for Better Transport study on a Low Carbon UK Transport Policy (2008).

A study by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) has outlined how a phased programme of technological, financial and behavioural changes could secure the potential cuts in carbon dioxide emissions compared to a business-as-usual approach:
• 100 per cent in road transport (cars and lorries)
• 100 per cent in rail transport
• 56 per cent in aviation
• 49 per cent in shipping

Under this programme road transport will be completely carbon neutral by 2050 due to a combination of reduced demand (approximately 75 per cent from spatial, fiscal and behavioural measures), and a whole-scale shift in technology to plug-in electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells, both of which will utilise decarbonised UK electricity supply.

Clearly, a carbon neutral electricity supply would be much more likely to be able to meet the increased needs of road transport sector entirely composed of plug-in electric vehicles and/or hydrogen cells. The measure causing the greatest reduction in demand is the annual increase in fuel costs due to the re-introduction of a fuel price escalator.

With regard to rail, all passenger and freight will be powered by 100 per cent electricity that is carbon neutral.

Carbon dioxide emissions of from aviation will be reduced by 59 per cent, which represents a significant progress in bringing aviation in line with the implications of the UK national commitment to an 80 per cent reduction by 2050 compared to 1990. However, the scale of the reduction is still not enough despite the applications of measures.

It is clear that a combination of measures to reduce demand such as air increases, no additional runways, modal shift to railways (High Speed Train) and video substitution would deliver a considerably greater reduction than could be achieved by advances in aircraft technology and air traffic management alone. It follows that a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from aviation of this scale could not be delivered by policy that encouraged technological solutions alone whist allowing demand to continue to grow.

Carbon dioxide emissions from shipping will be reduced by 49 per cent through changes in ship size, routing, fuel, speed and a number of other promising technologies have been assumed.

Although road and rail transport could both achieve the zero carbon dioxide emissions target, emissions from aviation and shipping are problematic. Although a 76 per cent reduction is a considerable achievement it still falls short of a zero carbon target. To improve on this figure carbon dioxide reduction would require more radical interventions or technological innovations for these two sectors than those envisaged in the SEI study. This would require fundamental changes in globalisation and patterns of international trade and mobility if aviation and shipping is to make a larger contribution to the zero carbon target.

The decarbonisation of the road and rail sector is dependent on the decarbonisation of the electricity supply system. However, if the electrical power sector decarbonisation is less than 100 per cent by 2050 carbon dioxide emissions from road and rail transport will be substantially higher.

The SEI study has shown that the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions form the UK transport sector is much greater than anyone previously thought and that reductions in emissions go hand in hand with improvements in air quality, health and economic success.

The policy recommendations include a number of radical but achievable measures including:

Spatial planning to create neighbourhoods and communities where it is possible to reach destinations on foot or by bicycle and public transport

New approaches to the regionalisation of production and consumption to bring about reductions in road freight

Increases in the cost of transport to implement the so-called “polluter pays principle”

Full de-carbonisation of the UK electricity supply system (as envisaged by the Climate Change Committee)

Full conversion of all cars to Plug In Electric Vehicles or Hydrogen Fuel Cells utilising de-carbonised electricity.

A zero carbon transport future will provide better access for more people to more things this is currently is the case. Traffic congestion and time wasted in traffic jams will be a thing of he past and the time currently wasted in commuter trips will be spent on rewarding and enriching activities.

The study has set out a vision of a zero carbon future and how to achieve it. What we need now is to convince decision-makers to move boldly and decisively to make this vision for UK transport a reality.

© Gary Haq 2010

Photo credits: Shutterstock

Car Free Cities

IMAGINE for a moment a city free from the noise, air pollution, congestion and danger associated with cars and lorries.

Imagine a safer and cleaner urban environment where more people walk, cycle, and use public transport and interact on the streets. Imagine a city where children can enjoy the independence and freedom of travelling to school and visiting friends. Imagine every major city in the country being car free..

For many the idea of a car free city may seem like an impossible dream. Yet this week academics, city planners and campaigners from all over the world will descend on the city of York (UK) to participate in the ninth World Car Free City Conference. This global gathering aims to develop practical alternatives to car-dependent lifestyles and car-dominated cities. In York participants will discuss cutting-edge and radical thinking in transport policy that show that the development of car free cities is a possible reality which offers numerous social and health benefits.

There is no doubt we are a car dependent nation. We have developed and adapted our cities to cater for increased car use rather than for the freedom and safety of pedestrians and children. Today about 70 per cent of households in Britain own a car compared to just 50 per cent in 1970. The car has become an essential feature of our modern urban way of life. We use it to get to work, to go shopping, to transport our kids to school, to visit friends and have day trips out. It offers freedom, mobility, independence, status, and for some, sexual expression. It is often cheaper and more convenient than public transport.

It has even been suggested that the type and colour of the car says more about someone’s personality than the clothes they wear or the house they live in. A RAC survey found that owners of pastel-colour cars are eight times more likely to suffer from depression than people with bright coloured cars, while drivers of white cars are distant and aloof. Owners of silver or metallic blue cars are the happiest drivers on the road, while owners of cars in the pastel colours of lilac and lime are twice as likely to be the victims of road rage.

A recent government survey of public attitudes to the car and the environment found that three-quarters of adults said that they were likely to undertake some form of activity to reduce car trips due to concerns about climate change. These activities included walking short journeys or reducing the number of non-essential trips. Yet while we may be open to the idea of curbing our car use we do not always put this into action.

Back in 2004 the City of York participated in a Government pilot project which aimed to change travel behaviour, increase regular exercise and cut congestion by designing individual travel plans for participants and offering them a range of incentives. The York Intelligent Travel project contacted nearly 6,000 households of which over 240 took part in the project from different areas of the city. Results of the twelve month trial were successful in reducing the distance travelled by car and increasing the distance and number of trips by bicycle and public transport. Although the project was initially successful in reducing car use, a follow-up study a year later discovered that this behaviour was not sustained. Participants had reverted back to their old travel behaviour demonstrating the challenge in persuading people to make long-term lifestyles changes.

Despite this challenge, Venice (Italy), Fes (Morocco) and Slateford Green in Edinburgh have managed to gain car free status. The largest car free development in Europe is in Freiburg (Germany). Residents in the suburb of Vauban have to sign an annual declaration stating whether they own a car or not. Car owners must purchase a place in one of the multi-storey car parks on the periphery, run by a council-owned company and pay a monthly fee to cover ongoing costs. Vauban has become a traffic-free residential area where the streets are often full of unsupervised young children, playing and cycling.

In the UK many cities continue to struggle to cope with the social and environmental burden of increasing traffic. If we want to enjoy the better quality of life that car free cities offer, we need to reclaim the public pedestrian space that has been slowly given up to the car. Equally, if we need make public transport cheaper, efficient and reliable and walking and cycling safer and pleasurable.

A car free city is not an impossible dream; the challenge is not technical but political. We need our civic leaders to have the vision and passion to create cities for people, where road infrastructure is limited, and where car use is restricted, and where getting around is easy, cheap and enjoyable for everyone.

© Gary Haq 2010