Will UN’s climate wake-up call be answered?

10 August 2021
Will UN’s climate wake-up call be answered?

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent report has provided “unequivocal” evidence that humans are to blame for increasing global temperatures and that heatwaves, heavy rainfall and droughts will become more common and extreme. The UN’s chief has labelled it a “code red for humanity” and world leaders, including our own Prime Minister, have called it a “wake-up call to the world”.

In the UK, transport is the biggest emitter of carbon emissions with 27 per cent of all emissions. Collectively, cars are the main contributor with just over half of emissions (55 per cent), followed by lorries and vans at 32 per cent, while public transport collectively accounts for less than five per cent. When you see figures like that you would be forgiven for thinking that the obvious solution is to reduce car use and increase public transport as an immediate way to tackle emissions and help avert climate disaster, but the UK has not made any specific targets on traffic reduction or modal shift. It has committed to ending the sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2030 however, and then the hope is that all drivers will eventually make the switch to electric at some point in the next couple of decades.

It goes without saying that this plan has neither the urgency or imagination necessary. Whilst Britain was the first country in the G7 group of industrialised nations to legislate for net zero emissions, we have only three decades left to reach it. The Government’s recent Transport Decarbonisation Plan outlines how it intends to reduce carbon emissions from transport and contains a vision where public transport, cycling and walking will be “the natural first choice” for journeys. The problem is that whilst this is a vision we totally agree with, without any financial incentives the risk is it remains just that, a vision.

The Government’s £27 billion roads investment programme remains in place and seems to be set in stone, despite increasing concerns that is no longer compatible with the UK’s net zero target. Plans to scrap Air Passenger Duty to help stimulate the domestic flight market also run at odds with reducing carbon emissions (taking a domestic flight produces more than six times as much greenhouse gas per passenger kilometre as travelling by rail), and the expected rail fare rise announcement next week sends the wrong signals about which transport choices people should be making. Add to this the Chancellor’s steadfast refusal to cancel the fuel duty freeze and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Boris Johnson’s ‘wake-up call’ should be directed towards his own Government.