Green cars good mode shift better

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) has declared that Government must do much more than promote electric cars if it wants rapid and deep cuts in transport emissions.

UKERC has published a report reviewing over 500 international studies into policies for reducing emissions from surface transport. It finds that policy can play a big role in helping drivers leave their car at home and that Britain lags behind the leading countries in use of cleaner modes of travel.

Policies could have a large impact through reducing the need to travel and promoting walking, cycling, public transport and efficient driving, as well as encouraging low carbon cars. In combination, policies to reduce car use could accelerate and reduce the cost of CO2 emission reduction as well as relieving congestion and improving quality of life.

Dr Jillian Anable, head of transport research at UKERC, commented: "We welcome the Government's recent announcements on low-carbon vehicles, but it needs to do much more than support electric cars. Without managing travel patterns themselves, it is very difficult to meet the technological challenges, including how the electricity is generated, at the scale and pace required. Without effective policies to manage demand for travel, emission cuts through vehicle technology will be made much more difficult and may come too late. This report looks at what can be done to harness the large untapped potential to help people to travel in more efficient ways."

The report's lead author, Dr Robert Gross, cautions against excessive reliance on single policies: "There is no point forcing car makers to produce low carbon options if no-one will buy them, so it is right that ambitious regulation is combined with grants and other incentives - including taxes on gas guzzlers - to deliver a transformation of the car fleet. But there is a bigger picture. If car travel becomes cheaper overall and car dependence grows then all our efforts to reduce emissions get harder and may take too long."

The report concludes that advocates for public transport, cycling and walking often miss the potential of more efficient travel patterns - moving services closer to people and reducing car dependence. The biggest long term impacts come through altering travel patterns so that fewer trips rely on the car, but these policies are most effective when combined with less popular measures such as parking restrictions, road and fuel prices and reallocation of space away from cars.

The report stresses the importance of packaging policies together such that problems with one policy can be overcome by another. For example more economical driving styles can have a significant impact on emissions but need reinforcement through ongoing awareness campaigns, training and stricter enforcement of speed limits. Similarly, absolute reductions in emissions arising from efficiency improvements made over the last decade are less than might have been expected. This could be down to rebound effects - people using fuel saved to drive further or faster, or choosing larger cars.

The report, an analysis of over 500 existing research reports, examines the merits of a range of different policies that offer the prospect of CO2 emissions reduction from road transport. It is authored by UKERC experts from Aberdeen University, Imperial College and E4tech consulting.

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