Coronavirus and the Climate Emergency

by Richard Walker

When I joined the DecarboN8 Network team at ITS on a secondment from the Department for Transport just four short weeks ago, I did not expect to be writing a blog to introduce myself in circumstances of a public health emergency that will change the world drastically. I was expecting to be writing about making 2020 a year of bringing the climate emergency to the top of the political agenda, building up towards meaningful global action on transport decarbonisation at the 26th UN climate summit (COP-26) in Glasgow in November. In this moment though it feels more important to write about coronavirus and what it might mean for the climate emergency.

But as my kids’ ‘LOTRmemes’ Reddit feed tells me, we do not get to decide what our time is, all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

A threat growing exponentially gives us little time to adjust to the enormity of what we are facing. This might be a virus; or as the Australians can teach us, a bush fire; or, as the Bahamians could teach us (if only we asked them), a monstrous hurricane. We must try our best to avoid being overwhelmed. First, we need to survive. Then, if we survive, we can ask, how can we make some good come out of this disaster?

DecarboN8 launched in November, and has already built a useful network of researchers, practitioners and active citizens to discuss, assemble evidence and take action on transport decarbonisation. I believe we can already say that its three year timespan will now be years defined by coronavirus and the social, economic and political fallout from it. We must adjust and respond; and make ourselves as useful as possible. What we can do is not yet clear, but those of us locked down at home will have time to think about the question, and we can use this network as a forum to discuss it.

Here is my first contribution to such a conversation, which I hope will involve many and diverse voices from across the DecarboN8 Network. It is a blog on some of the emergencies I have seen, and how they have interacted with the question of transport decarbonisation. I stress that this is a personal account; and represents my own view and not that of my employers.

TL;DR: we have known for 30 years that there is nothing more important than addressing carbon emissions, but again and again emergencies have come along that have, understandably, been deemed more urgent, and which have pushed decarbonisation down the list of things to do. In our own field of transport, far too close to nothing has been done. Can we, somehow, use this new global disaster to galvanise global action on the climate emergency?

Save the earth from coronavirus and the climate emergency

An old timer’s tale

Born and bred in Bolton, I’m a geographer and town planner who has been in the transport planning game since 1991. I worked for the planning, transport and economics consultancy, Colin Buchanan, in places including Oxford, London, Sydney and Shanghai, then for the Greater London Authority, the Strategic Rail Authority and, since 2005, the Department for Transport (DfT). For the last 7 years or so, I have been mostly working on how transport strategy can support the sustainable economic development of the North of England. That time has included secondments out of DfT to the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and Transport for the North.

Arriving at a university of 35,000 bright young students brings it home forcibly that I might be getting a bit older than I was. I’m still resisting the idea that I’m just an old timer with little fresh to offer, but I’m content to embrace the notion that I’ve now been around long enough to see a few turns of the wheel.

In 1991 we already knew a lot about climate change. Mainframe computers could churn out forecasts of future temperatures and sea levels that looked catastrophic. At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1993 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed, and ‘Local Agenda 21’ became a thing. Agenda 21 was essentially optimistic: through ‘sustainable development’ we could both fix poverty and save the planet.

I believed then (and still do) that transport planning could help balance our needs and desires for mobility with those for nicer, non-traffic-choked places to live in, whilst also saving the planet. I worked mostly on traffic reduction schemes for congested towns and cities.

In 1997, in the UK, after 5 years of civil society campaigning, the Road Traffic Reduction Act was passed. It was the final law passed by a Conservative government that had been in power for 18 years. Local authorities had to either set a target for reducing road traffic in their area, or explain why they considered it inappropriate to do so. As a young transport planner, it felt like a great success for the transport planners’ balanced approach, especially as a means of reducing transport carbon emissions. Then Tony Blair’s New Labour were elected on a landslide, and things were only going to get better.

The third annual Conference of Parties (COP-3) was held in Kyoto in 1997. The world’s leaders signed a protocol: the time for debate was over – global warming was real, man-made, and the world would act through binding agreements to stop it. Lobbyists, who were being paid by the fossil fuel industry to sow the confusion known as climate change scepticism, had been beaten. Or so it seemed.

But in 2000, US Vice-President Al Gore, who knew that climate change was an inconvenient truth that must be faced, was beaten in the US presidential election. The tied election in Florida was called for Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s brother, Texas oilman George W. Bush. The oilmen were now in control of the US Government, and progress on Kyoto stalled.

The world in crisis

I vividly remember the 9/11 attack on New York City in 2001. It seemed to come out of the blue and was deeply shocking. I ran out of the office and bought a set-top aerial for the cathode ray tube TV in my company’s conference room, so we could watch the live coverage on the BBC. Everybody knew that this meant some major change would now happen, but of course nobody at that time could know that it would launch a ‘war on terror’ that has so far cost between one and three million lives and US$1.8 trillion.

On 15 February 2003 ten million people in 600 cities protested against the invasion of Iraq. I expect most of those ten million would have readily agreed that global warming was the bigger overall issue, but if at the time you had asked them, they would have said – quite understandably – that trying to stop the war was the more urgent issue.

I also remember the global financial crisis of 2007-08, which first came to wide attention in August 2007 with the sight of people queuing down Northumberland Street in Newcastle to get their money out of Northern Rock bank; the first run on a British bank since 1866. By September 2008, the world was within days of the complete collapse of the global financial system.

US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s $700bn TARP bailout saved the US banks. Paulson, whose previous job was chairman and CEO of investment bank Goldman Sachs, signed off reclassification of Goldman as a clearing bank 24 hours before it would have gone bankrupt. This move qualified it for a $10bn bailout, no strings attached. Multi-million-dollar bonuses went straight back on the menu. Goldman’s CEO described the company as “doing God’s work”.

The financial system’s cardiac arrest was clearly a big thing, but few foresaw how much the choices made in its aftermath would dominate the decade to follow. Regarding climate change, it was not immediately apparent that the crash would stop progress towards concerted global action on carbon emissions. Arguably, Britain attempted to lead the way – by writing an 80% cut in emissions by 2050 into law, through Ed Miliband’s Climate Change Act 2008.

Barack Obama, who understood what climate change was and meant long term, had entered the White House, and people were getting ready for the world to agree binding emissions reductions at COP-15 in Copenhagen in December 2009. But Obama decided that the post-crash recession in the world economy was the more urgent problem and killed a meaningful deal that bound the USA to make serious emissions cuts.

The world recession saw governments’ income from taxation fall, and public sector deficits became a hot issue. In 2010, two Harvard economists, Reinhart and Rogoff, made a mistake on an Excel spreadsheet and there was a panic about how high public sector debt could safely go.

In Britain, the incoming Cameron/Clegg coalition government’s no.1 priority was to reduce the deficit, both by reducing public sector spending and by leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of growth. In the North of England, the growth agenda was branded as ‘building the Northern Powerhouse’. The UK looked to increase economic productivity using a definition of ‘productivity’ that measured Goldman Sachs bankers as the most productive workers in our economy.

But no sooner had that policy approach started to build up a head of steam than it was itself disrupted unexpectedly – by the Brexit referendum result in June 2016. Yet again, it was not immediately obvious that the ramifications of that shock would dominate the years to follow quite so completely. Despite best intentions, it does seem that the important lesson to learn is that our political system can only deal with one top priority at a time.

In 2016, at COP-21 in Paris, a deal to follow Kyoto was signed. But it placed greater emphasis on what needed to be done than about what would be done. By the end of 2018, the evidence on the ground of global heating as a real and present danger was everywhere – on the ice floes, in the rainforests, in an English country garden. Yet on the political agenda, worldwide, the issue was quiet.

It took a Swedish schoolgirl to remind the grown-ups of what they knew needed to be done, had promised would be done, and had then psychologically buried. In 2019, action on climate change was yanked back towards the top of the political agenda worldwide by youth-led peaceful protests. In the UK, 282 local authorities and the UK House of Commons declared a climate emergency. The British Government declared that it would strengthen its efforts to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement and set a new legally binding target of ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050.

And now, 2020

9/11 and the global financial crisis were giant emergencies, and they both had repercussions lasting longer than a decade. Yet in terms of both human deaths and economic impact, it’s very possible that coronavirus will become the bigger than both. We don’t know now how bad coronavirus will get in the world outside China, but things look bad.

Warren Buffett said about companies in a recession that when the tide goes out, you discover who’s been swimming without trunks. I think we are going to discover that this aphorism also holds for countries and economic systems.

The past 30 years of emergencies teaches us that we can already say two things: first, that coronavirus will squeeze the climate emergency out of the spotlight for a longer period of time than we presently expect, and second, that however bad it gets, in the long term it is still less important than the climate emergency.

The bush fires in Australia at Christmas 2019 were a clear message for everyone to grasp that we are running out of time to act. We can expect more devastating forest fires across Eurasia and North America in the 2020 northern hemisphere summer. We cannot afford for coronavirus to delay action on decarbonising our lifestyles and the world economy.

City lockdowns and the sudden halt of global aviation will slash world carbon emissions by a surprising amount in a period of a few weeks: the data will no doubt come in soon. Those who said deep cuts in carbon emissions were impossible are now empirically wrong. But the case that carbon emissions can be drastically reduced without provoking economic damage remains unproven.

It seems likely to me that the steps already taken to address this disaster will bring the current 40-50 year epoch in the world economic system to an end. What the economic system of the next epoch will be is currently up for grabs. The Wall Street and City of London boys who kept hold of the top perch after 2008 will be hatching a plan for it, although this disaster may prove too big even for them.

People working in health care, social care, supermarkets, logistics, food processing were defined as recently as a few weeks ago as ‘low skilled’, when what was meant was, they were low paid. By mainstream economics’ official definition, they were low productivity. This week they are the key workers without whom we can’t survive. That is a change already – but they remain the low paid. Will they accept that for long?

Outbreak map

Making use of the DecarboN8 Network

How can the DecarboN8 Network respond to this emergency, and make ourselves useful? First, we should recognise that the economic shock is massive, frightening and disorientating – like getting the disease itself. Second, again like getting the disease itself, if we survive it, we will emerge from it.

New ways of life and a new economy are now on the cards, whether we like it or not. The role of the DecarboN8 must be to keep the climate emergency and transport decarbonisation high on the political agenda as we emerge from the aftermath. We must assemble evidence, come up with ideas, and support our members to take action.

Through the DecarboN8 Network, you can play a role and have a voice in that. DecarboN8 will be reaching out to you soon, so watch this space. Together, let us find ways to deliver a climate smart recovery from this severe global crisis which is more equitable and future-proof.

Budget 2020 – Transport: We can’t build our way out of the climate challenge

DecarboN8 Director, Professor Greg Marsden, analyses the implications of Budget 2020 for decarbonising transport

The budget is a missed opportunity to rebalance what we spend our transport funding on. Too much capital spending on road schemes will undermine the increases in spending on public transport, as will the 10th consecutive year of frozen fuel duty. Experience shows roadbuilding just generates more traffic and we can no longer afford to add to the size of the carbon challenge.  When the climate emergency demands a new approach that commits governments to create the conditions where we can travel less by car, we are spending more on roads.

The Budget proposes a £5.2bn budget for spending on major infrastructure investment in our major cities, all to be spoken for by 2025. This is on top of £5bn announced for investment in walking, cycling and bus improvements. This is all welcome and necessary but insufficient. Even with the most optimistic EV adoption pathways we will need to reduce the amount we travel by car by at least 10% and more than double bus, rail and cycling by 2030 and then do even more out to 2050. This funding will help deliver major public transport capacity improvements. However, we also require subsidy for service frequencies and fares to enable more routes to be available at more times of the day and night so people can use public transport for their everyday needs. We see no sign of this switch to revenue support in the budget, where capital spending remains king.

Contrast the £5.2bn for public transport to “the largest ever investment in English strategic roads, with over £27 billion between 2020 and 2025”. When we build more roads or add capacity we encourage more driving. Add to this the freeze in fuel duty for a “record tenth year in a row”. The OBR estimates that fuel duty freezes mean there has been a 40% real-terms fall in the tax share of GDP which fuel duty provides since 1990 as motoring gets cheaper. The result? New car sales of SUVs have sky rocketed as consumers have traded up the lower costs of motoring and better engine technology to bigger cars. 37 SUVs were sold for every Battery Electric Car in 2018. Whilst there is a welcome continuation of incentives for the Plug-in-Car Grant those are still well below those in countries such as Norway who lead the way.

If we cannot be compliant with our carbon pathway without reducing how much we drive then why on earth are we building more roads? They won’t be needed if the other things we have to do take priority. At the very least there should be a moratorium on new road construction until the penetration of EVs in the fleet is close to 100% – so not any time in the period of this budget. One of the key problems is that the Treasury appears to be writing the cheques on what the balance of spending will be before the Department for Transport publishes its long awaited Decarbonisation Strategy. Given the recent experience with the legal challenge to the third runway at Heathrow, it would not be surprising to see further court challenge to this “infrastructure first” approach in the coming months.

The focus on shovel-ready infrastructure expansion on the roads will, regrettably simply dig us a bigger climate hole to get out of.

induced demand

DecarboN8 at Leeds State of the City

The Climate Emergency was the theme of Leeds City Council’s State of the City event this year. Several members of the DecarboN8 team attended to talk with participants about what they felt needed to change in order for Leeds to become a city where you do not need to own a car.

Councillor Judith Blake opened the event by sharing a vision of Leeds as a place where it doesn’t matter where you were born, you should have equal access to opportunities, clean air, transport, and quality of life. The people we spoke to found it easy to imagine how reducing our dependence on cars could help achieve this goal. There was an overwhelming sentiment that a city the size of Leeds should have great public transport. People are ready to ditch their cars in favour of more sustainable options, but they are finding it difficult to shift away from car-use due to the high cost, poor coverage, and lack of capacity on trains and buses serving the Leeds area at the moment. They also feel unsafe cycling and walking in our car-packed city.

DecarboN8 Director, Professor Greg Marsden, shared this presentation with a workshop which looked at transport, challenging participants to think about what changes would be required to make Leeds a less car-dependant city:

Later in the workshop we were asked to map our journeys around Leeds, consider where we could shift those journeys to more sustainable travel options, and discuss what barriers prevent us from choosing those options. Participants spoke of having to travel by car for most journeys because public transport options were unavailable, unreliable, too costly, or felt unsafe. Others mentioned peripheral factors such as their children’s school not providing anywhere for the children to store their coats, making walking difficult, especially in winter.

DecarboN8 also had a stall in the exhibition area, where we provided maps of the Leeds area to participants and invited them to draw their ideal transport future for Leeds. You can see their responses in the slide deck below. Common themes include: the need for circular public transport routes connecting suburbs, congestion charging, a pedestrianised city centre and safe walking and cycle paths.

Keynote speaker, Natalie Fee, from City to Sea shared this quote:

“We change our behaviour when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing”. ~ Tony Robbins

The conversations we had at the State of the City event suggest that people in Leeds care about the climate crisis and are keen to change their behaviour, but at the moment the pain of changing still feels too great. Those we spoke to concurred that to shift this, balance better public transport and active travel options must be extended across the city to provide safe and reliable alternatives to the car, fit for the complex realities of people’s day to day lives.

DecarboN8 is offering seedcorn funding to develop research projects to tackle these kinds of issues. The deadline for applications is 5pm on 27th February 2020.

Decarbonising Transport: Connecting Carbon Targets to Action

Earlier this month we held our first workshop on the theme of Carbon Pathways, ‘Decarbonising Transport: Connecting Carbon Targets to Action’. The workshop was attended by a mix of people from academia, local and national government, industry and civil society. Participants heard evidence from members of the DecarboN8 team and the CREDS Centre (slides for these presentations are shared below) about the scale and nature of the decarbonisation challenge. Through a series of participatory activities, attendees shared their local and professional knowledge to interrogate how carbon budgets can best be used to inform transport policy and modelled possibilities for a low-carbon transport future in a variety of Northern locations.

The morning’s break out activities on carbon targets will directly inform a forthcoming series of policy briefings. The afternoon activities underlined the value of taking place-based approaches when thinking about decarbonisation pathways. The very different urban and rural cases, when considered over both the short and long term, produced some fascinating contrasts. A key challenge will be to produce a supportive policy framework and set of technologies which can encompass and adapt to these differences. Insights and challenges identified throughout the day are already being used to inform DecarboN8’s research priorities.

Introduction to DecarboN8

Professor Greg Marsden

CREDS: The Carbon Briefing

Professor Jillian Anable

Aligning UK Car CO2 with Paris

Professor Kevin Anderson

Making Mobility Futures: Carbon Pathways and Societal Readiness

Professor Monika Büscher and Dr Nicola Spurling

Our aim with this series of thematic workshops is to inform research objectives for future funding calls and to inspire collaboration by bringing together a variety of stakeholders interested in decarbonising transport.

For regular updates about upcoming projects, events and funding calls subscribe to our newsletter. We’ve also recently announced our first round of seedcorn funding. The deadline is 27th February and we welcome applications from all disciplines to develop research projects to help decarbonise transport in the North.

Thank you to everyone who attended our Launch Event!

Thank you to everyone who participated and helped contribute to the packed agenda full of challenging and inspiring ideas about place-based decarbonisation of transport for the North.

Thanks too to everyone who joined us online for the morning via our livestream and Q&A. If you missed it you can check out the recording on YouTube!

And our friends at Influential produced this short video for the N8 Research Partnership about the day.

Ideas and contributions from the day have been collated to help inform our priorities and agenda for the future of DecarboN8. The slides are available to review on SlideShare:

The launch was of course just the start – in the coming weeks and months we have many more opportunities for you to get involved and work with us to decarbonise transport across the North:

Seedcorn Funding Call NOW OPEN:

Check our our funding pages for details of our first round of seedcorn funding. A pot of £100,000 is available to support individual or collaborative seed/pilot/demonstrator projects led by UK Research Organisations. The deadline for applications is 5pm (GMT) on Thursday 27 February 2020.

DecarboN8 Stakeholder Reference Group

Our advisory group made up of individuals providing place or sector specific insight. This group will help shape the research agenda, connect with networks, review publications and evaluate projects. Please apply now if you’d like to get involved!

Keep in touch

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you never miss our announcements about further opportunities to get involved!

Social Acceptance and Societal Readiness Levels

Monika Büscher and Nicola Spurling

Social change is critical to rapid decarbonisation. Citizens’ active participation in energy management is ‘as critical as technology’ for sustainability[1]; not least because social innovation could support decarbonisation at scale, and faster than technical or infrastructural innovation[2].  However, technocratic conceptions of social acceptance and societal readiness are misdirected. Innovation cannot succeed by demanding that individuals and society change to accept it.

Decarbon8 develops a new framework to evaluate the societal readiness of socio-technical innovations. This working note motivates this move in outline, provides working definitions of social acceptance and societal readiness from a socio-technical perspective, a sketch of the Societal Readiness Levels (SRL) framework for evaluation we are developing, and a set of questions that research teams can use to develop the societal readiness of their innovations.   

Why take a socio-technical approach to social acceptability and societal readiness?

At a time when millions of people across the globe are demanding action on climate change, and 88% of UK citizens understand that human action is mainly or partly responsible for climate change[3], it can hardly be said that society is not ready for change. However, our innovations often do not enable change. People are imprisoned by mobility systems that leave them very little real choice over how to travel[4]. Indeed, the depth of systemic lock-in and the demand for social acceptance of narrow technological fixes (electric vehicles) and policy interventions (carbon taxes) delay action towards systemic and structural change[5]. We are headed for failure if we continue to design technologies, policies, infrastructures, ideologies that people cannot integrate into their everyday lives. The social acceptability of our solutions must improve. Methodologies that allow citizens genuine participation in innovation processes are needed[6]. A socio-technical approach can enhance the ambition and effectiveness of innovations by inspiring socially acceptable design for systemic change and societal transformation.

What is social acceptance in a socio-technical definition?

The social science is in: the ABC of transition theories, which all too often posit that education, nudging, or enforcement can effect social acceptance, is wrong[7]. A change of A – individuals’ Attitudes, will not automatically translate into B – Behaviour change, and ultimately C – Change in the system. Technocratic concepts equate social acceptance with behaviour change, evaluating the willingness of individuals to ‘take’ the technologies, policies, infrastructure innovations that experts devise. This hubris denies that there are factors that make technologies, policies, infrastructures more or less acceptable for people – they may not be desirable, useable or effective for good reasons. 

A socio-technical definition of social acceptance helps us understand these reasons. It sees acceptance as a process by which innovation becomes embedded in everyday practices, that needs to be supported by good design and creative, inclusive design methods. It enables a focus on enhancing the acceptability of solutions. This may imply careful attention to useability, and the context of appropriation, it may require wider systemic change, it will often depend on stakeholder value chain mapping, and methods of collaborative design and responsible research and innovation. 

What is societal readiness in a socio-technical definition?

Societal readiness refers to the readiness of a socio-technical assemblage to be acceptable to society. That is, it evaluates how well a solution supports appropriation at scale and at speed, as well as how it contributes to the public good. For example, a fully digitised on-demand transport solution may be highly practical and fit for appropriation. However, it may introduce societally unacceptable levels of surveillance. As a result, it has low societal readiness. Its societal readiness can be improved by building privacy preserving techniques into its use of data and by involving citizens and stakeholders in an iterative design process that discloses and addresses emerging unintended consequences through creative ethical and social impact assessment and design. To give a second example, a solution may be highly acceptable to affluent citizens with high mobility capital, but create mobility injustice for others. By anticipating and addressing issues of equity, gender, age, class, ethnicity and other aspects of inequality, innovations can be enhanced.

What is the role of place in societal readiness?

Technocratic approaches are often based on an approach to innovation in which ‘solutions’ are developed for imagined, generic users, in non-specific places. If people or places do not share the vision, they are seen as the problem. 

In DecarboN8 we disagree with this point of view. 

DecarboN8’s place-based approach addresses challenges faced across the North as specific, and very diverse places are seeking to rapidly decarbonise transport. Understanding place is an essential starting point for making decarbonised transport futures. 

A key question is: How can we ensure that innovations in decarbonised travel are ready for specific places? This requires taking account of place-specific characteristics including:

  1. existing transport infrastructures and services that vary by place – this variety of starting points should feature in future designs; 
  2. populations vary by age, disability, gender, ethnicity with different implications for inclusivity and access; 
  3. different place-specific systems and cultures of mobility mean that lifestyles need to change in different ways; 
  4. the end uses underpinning travel demands have different profiles across the region. 

DecarboN8’s place-based approach emphasises that innovation must be designed and combined in ways that are more attuned to how people wish to, and are able to, practice transformation in different places.

Societal Readiness Levels (SRL)

There is currently a surge of interest in societal readiness, and various definitions of ‘societal readiness levels’ are emerging. The SRL concept originates in debates about a transition towards low carbon futures2 and the Danish Innovation Fund’s attempt to find a ‘way of assessing the level of societal adaptation of … innovation to be integrated into society’[8]. This contrasts with the more common approach of technology readiness levels[9], which evaluates how ‘proposed solution(s)’ meet ‘plans for societal adaptation’. For example, in the context of future transport, a technology readiness approach would evaluate the decarbonising potential of a proposed innovation, and place responsibility for increasing society’s readiness for it with individuals, communities, societies, politicians, and policy makers. It would propose innovations and then ask how to alter people’s attitudes and behaviours to effect change.  

DecarboN8 is critical of this technology readiness approach. 

The societal readiness levels that we are developing (see figure 1) turns the tables. Instead of asking how society can be made ready for innovations, we ask: How ready are our socio-technical innovations for society?
Figure 1: Socio-technical definition of societal readiness levels

At the lower levels in our emerging socio-technical framework of societal readiness levels, are concepts and technologies like electric vehicles, which have the potential to support systemic change but are isolated from real world practice and lacking societal and material infrastructure for large-scale appropriation. Moving up the scale are experimental embeddings of technologies, such as the Tyndall Travel Strategy and the University of Edinburgh’s business travel reporting tool prototype, which are being effectively used to reduce emissions from academic travel, and are engendering social innovations, such as no-fly academic conferences. Within its 2019-2022 remit, the DecarboN8 Network aims to reach innovations that are at SRL4 and 5. Plans for future efforts envisage achievement of SRL 8 and 9, with liveable, effective, significantly decarbonising innovations (net zero carbon), which are aligned with systemic changes and evaluated as societally ‘good’ by a broad and diverse group of stakeholders, including citizens.

Achievement of high Societal Readiness Levels depends upon engagement with diverse stakeholders and translation of insight into synchronised technical, regulatory, policy, and social innovation. Discussion of ‘Impact Readiness Levels’[10] by the Dandelion project on an inclusive, innovative and reflective societies-sensitive valorisation concept offer valuable insight into the kinds of engagements with stakeholders that are conducive to our aims. 

How to design for societal readiness?

The DecarboN8 network seeks to facilitate co-creation of a socio-technical framework for achieving high-quality innovation for rapid decarbonisation of transport in the UK. The discussion in this document is intended as an invitation to members of the network to engage critically with the notions of social acceptance and societal readiness, and co-create a good framework with us.

Below we raise some questions that we believe can support designing for socio-technical societal readiness. They are by no means exhaustive or prescriptive:

  • Is your innovation (technology / policy / infrastructure / transport plan / form of activism) ready for the individuals, communities in our society? 
  • Is your innovation good for society? Now and in future? How do you know? What are the contextual and systemic dimensions of your innovation?  
  • Have you considered all relevant perspectives? Who has been involved in your design process and how? Have all those affected had a say? Have they been listened to? Have you made it possible for the less powerful to be heard on an equal footing?
  • Have people had an opportunity to try out your innovation in their everyday lives? Have you undertaken multiple iterations of your design to discover disruptive consequences?  
  • Have you considered and addressed ethical issues, from accessibility to mobility justice to datafication? From individual to societal scales? Now and future generations? 

[1] EU Commission(2012) Energy roadmap 2050. Publications Office of the European Union.ISBN 978-92-79-21798-2, doi:10.2833/10759.

[2] Allwood, J. M., Gutowski, T. G., Serrenho, A. C., Skelton, A. C. H., & Worrell, E. (2017, June 13). Industry 1.61803: The transition to an industry with reduced material demand fit for a low carbon future. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. Royal Society.

[3]  YouGov – International Climate Change Survey, Fieldwork: 11 June – 22 July 2019

[4] Anthony Rae, 25th November DecarboN8 Launch, Leeds Crowne Plaza Hotel; Urry, J. (2004). The ‘System’ of Automobility. Theory, Culture & Society, 21(4–5), 25–39.

[5] UNEP (2019) United Nations Environment Programme. Emissions Gap Report 2019. UNEP, Nairobi. P. 54

[6] Cardullo, P., & Kitchin, R. (2019). Being a ‘citizen’ in the smart city: up and down the scaffold of smart citizen participation in Dublin, Ireland. GeoJournal, 84(1).

[7] Shove, E. (2010). Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change. Environment and Planning A, 42(6), 1273 – 1285.

[8] Danish Innovation Fund, 2019,; Schraudner, Martina, Fabian Schroth, Malte Juetting, Simone Kaiser, Jeremy Millard, and Shenja van der Graaf. 2018. ‘Social Innovation The Potential for Technology Development, RTOs and Industry.  Policy Paper’. Fraunhofer.

[9]  Mankins, John C. 1995. ‘Technology Readiness Levels. White Paper’. NASA.

[10] Dandelion Project. (2018). IIRS Valorisation Methodology.

Aligning UK Car Emissions with the Paris Agreement

Contributed by Kevin Anderson

Taking the temperature and equity commitments enshrined in the Paris Agreement at face value places mitigation demands on wealthy industrial nations far beyond anything thus far countenanced. Interpreting Paris through the science in the IPCC’s most recent report demonstrates the importance of living within a tight and rapidly dwindling carbon budget.

Provisional work by UKERC and Tyndall Manchester for Decarbon8, estimates a UK Paris-compliant carbon budget, subsequently apportioned to different UK sectors, including car travel. The implications are profound. Even if the UK car fleet is completely decarbonised by 2035, the number of vehicle-km travelled will still need to be cut in half if the sector is to make its fair contribution to delivering on the Paris commitments.