Transport and Climate Change – All about the transport providers or is it up to us to make a difference?

Transport is a key contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, with the sector contributing approximately a quarter of UK emissions. Like many people I try to do what I can to reduce my own emissions and use a car less often than I might. However, this isn’t always easy.

I live in Romsey, Hampshire and regularly travel to London for business. Its only about 85 miles from my house to the centre of London. Romsey has a train station (one of the reasons I chose to live there) and theoretically there are good connections from Romsey train station to London Waterloo involving just one connection. This should make the journey about as fast as driving 30 minutes to nearby Winchester and picking up a direct train from there (about 2 hours door to door). However, almost every time I catch the train from Romsey there is a delay and I miss the connection, adding at least 40 minutes (and often more than an hour) onto the journey time. I am a fairly committed environmentalist but have almost given up on getting the train all the way to and from London due to the frustration of not being able to rely on the train. Inevitably the delays are even worse when there is any form of extreme weather such as heavy rain or snow.

This illustrates the current difficulties we have with a transport system which just doesn’t seem very integrated and which suffers from reliability even with good weather conditions. This reliability could get worse with climate change. Perhaps the most obvious climate risk in the UK is from flooding, but other climate factors such as increasing peak temperatures will also require changing design standards now and in the future. The range of potential hazards is broad; from increased temperatures leading to track buckling in rail systems, wear and tear damage to roads caused by flooding events and extreme storms resulting in the destruction of infrastructure, such as the recent collapse of the rail line along the Dawlish coastline.

In the UK our transport providers are making good progress in understanding and managing the risks posed by climate change, with individual network operators undertaking risk assessments and putting adaptation measures in place, although my feeling is that more progress is needed to knit all of this work together (which is perhaps the case with the transport system more generally). There is also effort on reducing emissions, although there is a lot of reliance on ultra-low emission vehicles and electrification of the rail network. One has to wonder how realistic targeted emission reductions will be, particularly if someone like me who actually cares about climate change is driven to using the car.

Whilst I applaud the efforts being made, I do worry about how a transport system that already seems to suffer from a lack of integration, is going to be able meet the twin challenges of significant reductions in emissions, combined with adapting to a changing climate. Transport providers are working hard on these issues, but is this enough without more joined up thinking? What do you think? Am I being pessimistic or expecting too much? Should we all just stop whingeing, deal with the dodgy connections and leave our cars at home?

3 Replies to “Transport and Climate Change – All about the transport providers or is it up to us to make a difference?”

  1. Hi Bram
    I think you’re pointing quite firmly at perhaps the main issue here: Without political commitment there is just no way we’ll be able to commute sustainably. Or make any kind of changes to the way we use transport in a coordinated manner.

    Every now and then, gigant leaps are made in budding and promising technologies: Apple is perhaps the best example as a refiner of existing consumer technologies, that are given just the right tweaks to appeal to the masses. Another, more topical, is Tesla’s movement from sports car, through the Model S and X onwards to the coming Model 3, that may be their car for the rest of us.

    In relation to the latter, the Danish goverment, with an alarmingly broad political backup, has decided to remove the exemption from taxes for electric cars. Just the incitement that has meant that there are currently more than 74,000 electrical cars in Norway, one of Denmarks neighbours.
    http://www.gronnbil.no/statistikk/?lang=en_US

  2. Hi Espen – totally agree that political commitment is key. The case you raise on electric cars in Denmark is interesting. Here in the UK we usually think of Denmark as the shining light when it comes to sustainability, so the removal of tax exemption for electric cars is a surprise. We have a similar, but probably larger scale, issue here in the UK with big recent decreases in Government support for renewable energy.

  3. You do feel like the issues associated with a fragmented network are exacerbated by the privatisation of transport systems, further reducing the likelihood that we are going to achieve a ‘joined up’ solution as private organisations are pursuing their own goals to make a profit (perfectly acceptable as a private business).

    As mentioned by Espen the key is political commitment, there needs to be a vision, one which moves away from short term value for money contracts and looks more to developing a long term strategy which can make environmental and economic sense.

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