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Change in travel behaviour required to help achieve global warming targets

23 January 2006

A huge change in how we travel is desperately needed to halt a trend that will see the UK’s air dangerously and irreversibly polluted within 15 years if left unchecked, according to a report by the UCL (University College London) Bartlett School of Planning and the Halcrow Group, commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT).

A change in the behaviour of UK residents will have more impact on achieving the CO2 emission reduction required than advancements in technology, say the authors of the report ‘Looking Over the Horizon: Visioning and Backcasting for UK Transport Policy’.

Study co-author, Professor David Banister, UCL Bartlett School of Planning, said: “For governments not to act is becoming increasingly irresponsible. We need major change in the way people travel. Global atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are over 370 parts per million now. This figure is rising at over 2 ppm each year. If we exceed 400 ppm then most people believe we're in trouble in terms of global warming, so we've got 15 years of current growth before we reach a critical point.”

Two possible policy routes the DfT could take to reach a proposed 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 were tested by UCL and collaborators at the Halcrow Group. The first scenario focused on the impact of technological advances - including hybrid cars and alternative fuels – on lowering emissions. The second scenario considered changes in travel behaviour - from government and businesses to changes in residents’ lifestyles and travel patterns. This second scenario was far more effective.

“To move towards these behavioural changes in the UK,” said Professor Banister, “we could expect heavy government investment in cycling and walking; lower speed limits and national road pricing (similar to the London congestion charge but on an environmental and emissions basis and implemented across the whole country); better public transport and less long distance travel, as well as new urban design to improve accessibility to local services and facilities.”

The report recommends that the government puts emissions at the centre of its thinking, i.e. by encouraging less commuting and more working from home; by providing better local facilities so that trip lengths can be reduced, and by encouraging people to shift to public transport.

The car industry and large companies choosing car fleets will also have a big role to play. The report calls for emission levels to be given much greater weight when companies choose cars. For example, the Toyota Prius emits only 104 g/km compared with a BMW (3-series E46) 229 g/km, or the Ford (Focus 1.6) 161 g/km.

Technological change will work in parallel, so fuel-efficient vehicles and hybrid cars as well as alternative fuels, such as compressed natural gas, methanol, ethanol, biodiesel and electricity are suggested as possibilities.

Professor Banister said: “We don't believe that the hydrogen car, for example, will be widely available before 2030, so we don't factor it in to any of our calculations. But we do think that the entire car fleet could match the level of emissions of the current best hybrid cars at around 100 grams of CO2 per kilometre. One thing is for sure: technology won’t take us all the way there by 2030 – strong action on behavioural change will be required as well”.

It is only through a strong combination of technological and behavioural change that these necessary but challenging targets can be met by the DfT, and even then it depends on people choosing not to travel more than they do at the moment.

Study co-author, Robin Hickman, of the Halcrow Group, adds: “We really should see this as a new age for integrated transport and urban planning - a huge opportunity - with the global environmental imperative as the catalyst for a major improvement in the way we live our lives. There is no time for delay, as looking over the horizon, we can see that concerted action is required now, and not tomorrow.”

Notes for Editors:

1. For further information on this press release, photos or interviews please contact Alex Brew at UCL press office on 020 7679 9726 or Out-of-hours contact 07747 565 056

2. For further information on the VIBAT study, see the project website on: http://www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/research/planning/vibat/index.htm

3. The VIBAT study was carried out by Professor David Banister of the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London and Robin Hickman of the Halcrow Group, under a contract with the Department for Transport. Any views expressed are not necessarily those of the Department for Transport.