UCL Energy Institute


Taking the train for autumn getaways could add up to big carbon savings, research suggests

13 October 2022

New report shows that small lifestyle changes like taking a train instead of driving could collectively save a million tonnes of carbon.

LNER train at station

Experts from UCL Energy Institute and UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources have worked with London North Eastern Railway (LNER) to analyse the data on the impact of taking autumn excursions by car, as 25 per cent of British adults are set to undertake more than one leisure trip this autumn in an attempt to seek a final holiday before the winter sets in.

Research has found that rather than make drastic lifestyle changes, British adults prefer to make more manageable changes. In data collected by YouGov, 36 per cent of those surveyed feel they don’t have enough knowledge about the impact small changes can have on the environment. There is a large appetite to change, with 59 per cent of adults increasingly aware of the impact they have on climate change and almost one in three (30 per cent) feeling overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility to help support the environment by changing their lifestyle.

Whilst some travellers may feel that their single journey will not make a difference, the collective impact of everyone changing just one journey would be huge. On average, carbon emissions from cars are three times higher than that of a train, meaning the collective power of one small change could add up to a monumental shift.

UCL researchers Dr. Manos Chaniotakis, Prof. Paul Ekins and Dylan Johnson found that switching just one leisure journey to train this autumn could result in a 28.4 per cent reduction on total journey carbon emissions, and across one year could result in a 16.6 per cent reduction of annual leisure travel emissions (1099.63 million kgC02e).

Professor Paul Ekins, Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, said: 

Often, we talk about climate change in large scales such as icebergs melting and sea level rise, and this can make the issue feel overwhelming and unmanageable, and discourage people from making changes in their lives that can help.
What our research has concluded is that small changes made by enough people really do make a difference. Just one journey switched from car or bus to train by everyone who takes a leisure trip in a year could reduce carbon emissions by over 1 million tonnes CO2, or 16.6% of emissions from leisure trips, or nearly 1% of all UK 2019 transport emissions. This is a really big contribution from just one small change in a year to people’s daily lives.”