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Action is needed to reduce traffic, the Climate Change Committee warns

Paul Tuohy's picture
traffic jam

The Climate Change Committee has published its annual progress report to parliament. Current Government programmes, it warns, will not be enough to get greenhouse gas emissions to Net Zero.

While the Government has ambitious targets for cutting emissions, the Climate Change Committee - which is the independent, statutory body that advises and monitors the Government - says that not enough progress is being made. Home insulation and agriculture are especially sluggardly.

On transport, the report says, there has been good progress in sales of electric cars. Fully electric cars are now 12 per cent of the new car market. The report singles this out as a "bright spot".

But crucially, the report argues that decarbonising transport "should not be all about replacing fossil-fuelled vehicles with electric ones". More action is needed to "limit traffic growth, shifting travel to public transport and active travel".

"Reducing traffic is important as it can offer immediate emissions reductions while the fleet is transitioning to ZEVs, reduce the emissions associated with ZEV production, and deliver a range of ongoing co-benefits including lower congestion, better air quality, and cost savings." - The Climate Change Committee's Progress Report to Parliament, 2022

We agree. Electric cars will play an important role in decarbonising transport, but they are not a silver bullet. We also need to shift many more journeys to public transport, walking and cycling, and we need to move a higher proportion of freight by rail. This will have added benefits of reducing traffic and air pollution, making streets safer and neighbourhoods less car-dominated.

On the flip side, if public transport is allowed to dwindle further, non-drivers, including many young people, people with disabilities, and people on low incomes, could find themselves cut off from jobs, education and training. Many older people could be isolated from friends and family, shops and doctors' surgeries.

So, we wholeheartedly support the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee on encouraging modal shift. Here are our top six recommendations from its report...


Our Top 6 recommendations from the Climate Change Committee report

1. "A more coherent vision" is needed for investment in public transport. "Allocations and approaches are frequently inconsistent and not joined-up at present."

Our report, published last week, highlights this problem in relation to buses. Rather than asking local authorities to compete for funding, often fruitlessly, we say the Government should set up a single funding pot for all local authorities to invest in better buses.

2. Travel should be priced fairly. Public transport should be more affordable, with a new, transparent fare structure "ensuring fairness in relation to more carbon-intensive choices". And "taxes should send clearer signals to consumers on the high emissions cost of flying".

We have called for fair fares for public transport passengers, and for the price of flying to better reflect its climate impact. We are calling for carbon information to be shown on airline tickets, with the comparative emissions from rail travel also shown.

3. Guidance is needed to help local authorities achieve the target of "half of all journeys in towns and cities being walked or cycled by 2030. This should be accompanied by the required funding".

Walking and cycling are the greenest ways to get around, and should be possible for more journeys, because most of the journeys we make are short (71 per cent are under five miles, 25 per cent under one mile). But investment in safe, attractive infrastructure is a must.

4. "The Roads Investment Scheme... should not aim to cater for unconstrained growth in road traffic." The Government should "set out measurable targets for the contribution that reducing car travel will play in delivering transport's Net Zero pathway".

Both the Scottish and Welsh Governments have set targets for reducing overall car travel. The UK Government should follow suit.

5. "In the longer-term, it will be necessary for the UK to introduce some form of road pricing". The Treasury should "Scope and develop options for future fiscal policy to replace fuel duty" by early 2023.

Road pricing, based on distance travelled and how polluting a vehicle is, can be a fairer system for everyone. It can reduce congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions and encourage a shift to greener modes where possible.

6. The Government should "work with the public transport sector to run a coordinated campaign to welcome people back to public transport after the pandemic". And it should "work with operators and local transport authorities to avoid detrimental reductions in service provision"

Our campaign, The Way Forward, calls on the Government to champion public transport and ensure that it recovers and thrives after the pandemic.


Targets - no matter how ambitious - will not be enough to avoid runaway climate change. The Government must heed the advice of the Climate Change Committee and act quickly and strongly to ramp up progress and bring down emissions.