New UK Report Welcomes Moves to Promote Green Cars but Stresses Importance of Policies to Reduce Car Use
The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), the focal point for UK research on sustainable energy, today launched an extensive review of policies which could significantly reduce transport CO2 emissions. The report, authored by experts from Aberdeen University, Imperial College and E4tech Consulting, finds that Government must do much more than promote electric cars if it wants rapid and deep cuts in transport emissions.
The report reviews more than 500 international reports and papers on the subject, each of which was categorized and assessed for relevance. 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.
The report reviews policies that bear upon two categories of choice: travel choices such as how and how far to travel and vehicle purchase choices. It also discusses fuel taxes and prices, which affect both travel and vehicle choices.
Subsidies for low carbon cars are likely to be effective, because the evidence is that people tend to discount long run costs. 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.—Dr. Robert Gross, lead author
The report offers integrated conclusions as to the effectiveness of short-, medium- and long-term policies:
Short-term options with clear potential to reduce carbon emissions in the UK include ecodriving and speed enforcement, expanding the use of non-motorized modes and improving vehicle occupancy. Improving the off-peak utilization of existing public transport in cities and overall utilization of buses and trains outside the major metropolitan areas may also be possible. Policies to promote these options include travel planning, fuel and road price increases, dedicated infrastructure or prioritization for non-motorized modes, and training and education campaigns.
While policies to promote lower carbon car choices can have an immediate effect on new car sales it takes time for the vehicle fleet to turnover, so short run impacts on transport emissions are modest. Relatively low elasticity of demand for fuel suggests that the impact of fuel tax increases may be limited in the short run. Despite the political problems that surround fuel taxes in particular, prices can play an important role in determining travel and vehicle choices.
Medium-term potential exists in reallocating road space to extend bus and light rail provision. Road pricing and fuel tax rises, competitive fares and service improvements, combined with information provision through travel plans are likely to be effective policy packages. It may also be possible to accelerate a shift to a much more efficient vehicle fleet. Circulation and fuel taxes combined with ‘scrappage’ subsidies may be able to deliver this goal if combined with information and education.
In the long-term both travel and car choices can deliver significant emissions reduction: It is possible to provide an integrated approach to delivering new infrastructure for public transport and non-motorized modes, linked to land use planning such that demand for travel is reduced and significant mode and destination shifting is delivered. This is most likely to be achieved if support for mode shift is accompanied by road use and parking charges, fuel tax increases, road space reallocation and travel planning and other information provision campaigns.
Relative prices of different modes play an important role in shaping long-term travel choices. It is also possible over time to facilitate a substantial shift to lower carbon cars. Our review suggests that the most effective policies are emissions regulation, purchase taxes and fuel tax, aided by rules on marketing and labelling. Rebound effects need to be addressed.
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 such as people using fuel saved to drive further or faster, or choosing larger cars.