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.

Talking Transport at the Leeds Climate Strike

Shona McCulloch, DecarboN8 Network Coordinator

The Climate Strike in Leeds on Friday was one of the best attended demonstrations I’ve seen over my years in the city. The atmosphere was energetic and optimistic, with people of all ages and backgrounds coming together in the sun to support the global youth-led movement to stop climate change.

Whilst the blazing sun and clear blue skies raised people’s spirits, they also served to underline the issue: it was 20°C, which is 8°C hotter than Leeds’ average for this time of year.

Some of the protesters kindly shared their time to explain how they thought transport could be decarbonised where they live, to help end the climate crisis.


“Public transport is far too costly to justify using it long term. I used to go to school on the train and as soon as I was able to drive it was cheaper for me to take a car, so it needs to be a lot cheaper to encourage people to use it. Keighley has a lot of really good transport connections in terms of you can get pretty much everywhere, but it’s just so expensive, even with a Railcard it costs a lot of money to go anywhere in the country really.

“For example, last summer I was able to InterRail around Europe for less than £400, I went to 8 different countries, but if I just wanted to go Skipton for a month it would cost me about the same amount! It cost me £80 to get to Inverness the other week, and that was with an advance fare and with one of these split tickets you can do now that are cheaper, but even so, that was extortionate. I think that the more expensive you make it the fewer people use it, so the less they can invest in making it better, so they’re in a downward spiral and it’s not going to get better unless there are some changes from the very top.

“The buses are too expensive as well, because I’m used to public transport in London where I study, where for £1.50 I can travel for an hour on the bus. I came back here at the beginning of summer and was getting a bus from my grandparents’ house, they live in Clayton in Bradford, just down to the town centre, and it cost me £2.50 for a single, and it was walking distance, it’s too much. The thing is in London transport works, I mean of course you do see loads of cars in London, but for most people they tend to use public transport because it’s the most efficient way to travel in London, it works and it’s affordable.”

Valentine (right)

“I live in the city centre and I don’t drive at all, I usually take the bus a lot, and I think there’s this thing in England where the way buses are priced is really, really expensive and really weird, and that doesn’t push people to take the bus, rather it pushes them to use their cars.”

Richard (Burgon, MP for Leeds East)

“I’m here today because free market fundamentalism has actually brought the globe to the brink of climate catastrophe. It’s killing species around the world, and if anyone thinks that the species of humanity is somehow immune from this threat, then they’re wrong, because this really could see the end of humanity on this planet. So I’m here today to say enough is enough, to celebrate the fact that trade unions and young people leading grassroots campaigns against climate catastrophe are working together.

“Cross Gates, where I live, has a train service which I use. It would be good to have those trains more frequently, and I think we need an expansion of train services, and we need to bring the buses back into local authority regulation. It’s very easy to condemn people for not using public transport, but when the public transport is not there for them to use, or is disproportionately expensive, or disproportionately awkward, or requires older or vulnerable people or women to walk on their own through secluded areas to get to bus stops etc. that needs to change as well.”


“I live just outside Leeds, and I walked to work today and then to the strike. Leeds needs better buses, more reliable buses, better cycle routes that aren’t as dangerous, and maybe cycle paths you don’t have to share with a bus. Putting a cycle lane and a bus in the same place is quite scary, I would cycle more if it was safer.”


“I live up Meanwood / Moortown way and work over in Gipton, and since there are no buses that go that way, and I don’t want to cycle with the traffic, I went by car to work this morning and then I’ve come by car into the city centre.

“I think there needs to be a decent public transport system across Leeds that doesn’t just centre on the city centre, it needs to link across the city centre. I think there need to be roads that are simply for bikes and, it’s a bit of a contradiction, but turning all the streetlights off after midnight is not particularly helpful or safe for cyclists either.”

John and Kina

John: “As a union branch (UNISON at Leeds Teaching Hospitals) we recognise that Leeds Teaching Hospitals has a massive carbon footprint because of all the travel that comes into Leeds, what with all the staff and all the patients and ambulances, so I think we’ve got a responsibility to discuss how in 2019 people travel to work and to think about public transport. I think public transport should be nationalised.”

Kina: “I usually use public transport and I live in South Leeds. Public transport is rubbish where I live to be honest, it’s very unreliable, but I got here, which is the most important thing! I don’t know how the transport could be improved really because the buses aren’t electric are they? Not all of them. So hopefully, with this protest, they would consider that and make some changes in the near future.”

John: “I come to Leeds every day on the bus from Morley, the service is rubbish, really infrequent, and I think, yes, electric buses, I completely agree with that, but also the frequency: if they were more frequent, more reliable – which is important, they’re very unreliable – fewer people would use their car. If you knew your bus was coming you’d use the bus. You know, people tend to take the easier option, because they’re not sure of the service, if you think “I’ve got to get to work in X amount of minutes” and you know that the bus may or may not come, you might have to take the safe option.

“Patients always get very upset about the cost of parking at the hospital, that’s the main thing, but you know maybe we should be looking at that in a different way, looking for out of town car parking and then park and ride systems, because that’ll take the pressure off patients from having to worry about car parking fees.”

Kevin and Vicky

Kevin: “I’m here to support the workers on strike and the students that are on strike as well, I’m involved in the local Trades Union Council, the Socialist Party, and the Unite Community union, and we want to support the young people taking this action. We think there’s a responsibility on the trade union movement to come up with proper solutions to the climate emergency. We’ve challenged the government, but we’ve equally challenged the trade union movement to come up with solutions, so we’re promoting the Leeds TUC Climate Change conference on the 19th October.”

Vicky: “I’m a socialist and trade unionist, and as Kevin says I think it falls to the trade unions to support the lead that’s been taken by young people over getting out on the streets, walking out of schools and colleges, and making a stand against climate change, but not just that but also system change.

“Just on a tiny microcosmic scale, I live in a satellite type small town where we have two bus companies that service us into the main hub (Sowerby Bridge), they rival each other to provide the service and they run their buses three minutes apart on the hour, so that they can try and jostle for the business, which leaves us waiting an hour for a bus, and is an absolute joke. I’m in favour of nationalising the transport system, properly integrating it, and letting us do our part to help save the planet.”

“I got here today by getting the hourly bus, one of them, luckily, which took me to Sowerby Bridge where I jumped on a train and came to Leeds. My journey was good, I’m a driver but I prefer not to use the car, I don’t have a car at the moment, and I am an advocate for a properly run integrated nationalised transport system. We need to end the transport situation that we’re living with which is absolute joke, for old people as well, I mean, I can walk to the local station, but what if you can’t?”


“I live between Headingley and Meanwood and I walk through the woods to work every day. Leeds needs massive improvements in infrastructure for walking and cycling, and better public transport, better subsidised, and much better public transport going around the city as well as going in and out, like the number 91 bus for example.

“By better I mean more frequent and reliable, at the moment there’s some days when the 91 bus is only once an hour, or it doesn’t even turn up, so trying to get from Meanwood to Pudsey, which a lot of people do, it just doesn’t come, and so, it’s just very, very difficult. I do as much as I can with the local Greens, I’m the coordinator of Headingley Green Party, so I do as much as I can to lobby for better transport.”

Isobella, Ellie and Chris

Isobella: “I live in Pudsey and I cycled here today. There was a lot of traffic, there’s a lot of pollution so I usually cycle with a mask, but it’s in the washing machine, so I didn’t wear it today and I could just smell all the fumes, it was awful.”

Ellie: “I’m not sure if this is a viable option but could we have electric buses? In Pudsey? In Bristol where I go to uni I’m pretty sure that all of the buses are electric, so I don’t see why we can’t have that. Or trams?”

Chris: “Yeah there was talk a few years ago about having trams in and around Leeds, but it didn’t happen due to costs and changes in the council. Where I live, it’s a small village, one of the trams did come pretty near, and it would have made life so much easier: yes it would have meant having to change half way, so the journey would’ve been longer, but it would’ve been greener. Even the buses around Leeds, a lot of them are now hybrids which is great, but if they’re only local services why do they need a great big diesel engine?”

Ellie: “Also, whenever I wait for the bus I always look at the cars going past the bus stop, and the majority of them have one person in them, so if all those people just got off the road, and got on a bus, then you know, we’d have probably more buses, because we would need more buses, but there would be so much more space on the road, and there would be so much less pollution.”

Isobella: “They need to stop cancelling every other train, that’s really annoying, because sometimes I’ll cycle in and get the train home, or get the train in and cycle home, and the buses don’t run frequently, and the trains are really bad, especially for wheelchair access as some of them don’t have an accessible toilet. We get two-carriage trains for the Leeds-Manchester rush hour, two of the biggest cities in the UK at the busiest time of the day, so it just doesn’t make sense does it?”

DecarboN8 is looking at how to cut carbon from transport in the short and long-term. As can be seen from people’s day to day experiences of transport in and around Leeds, there is a lot that could be done today without huge innovation, if priorities were set differently. We will be doing more to explore carbon quick wins in the coming months.

DecarboN8 at the Newcastle Climate Strike

Dr Sara Walker, Newcastle University

Today on 20th September I joined the climate strike. Newcastle University had an information stand outside Kings Gate Building, opposite the Civic Centre rally point for the Newcastle City climate strike. Staff were on hand to talk to colleagues, students and the public about our work, and how it can contribute to climate change mitigation.

Newcastle University has declared a climate emergency and is inviting staff, students and the public to join an event on 15th November, to begin the conversation about what we can and should do as thought leaders in this space, and I find it refreshing to see the University engaging with the local community on this topic.

Whilst I stood at the stand on this glorious autumn day (it is 19C here today, above the average of 10-15C for this time of year) it was a little easier to feel optimistic about the future. Millions around the globe are taking action. Small steps by individuals which cumulatively add to a crescendo of voices.

Shared mobility – where now, where next? Second report of the Commission on Travel Demand

Today at the Smart Transport Conference in Birmingham, DecarboN8 lead, Greg Marsden, launched the CREDS (Commission on Travel Demand) Shared Mobility Inquiry report.

The report makes 20 recommendations, outlining how the UK could use shared mobility to help meet our Net Zero by 2050 commitment.

By ‘shared mobility’ the report refers to:

Shared ownership: where use of a vehicle is shared between people, i.e. ‘car clubs’, car share schemes, fractional ownership, and bike share schemes.

Shared at the point of use: pay-per-trip ride sharing (or trip sharing) like airport shuttles. In the future, this may include ‘robot taxis’ where self-driving vehicles pick up and drop off different people as needed.

The report notes that shared mobility is a relatively cheap and easy way to cut emissions from transport, by better utilising the technology and infrastructure we already have:

“More intensive use of fewer vehicles already offers a cost-effective, socially progressive and implementable set of options to cut carbon.”

The report also points out the dangers of not moving towards increased sharing, noting that even if all vehicles were electric by 2050, sustaining the current rate of growth in individual car use would be incredibly resource-intensive.

Business as usual projection of growth in car ownership

Buisness as usual projection of growth in car ownership
Image by CREDS

Of particular interest to DecarboN8 is the report’s emphasis on finding different solutions for the edges of towns and rural areas. These places often have fewer alternatives than cities and so will need different ways to access cars in a more shared future. The report also recommends shared travel hubs alongside on busy motorway corridors which could apply to the North.

Challenging those who think sharing would be too difficult a policy to sell, the report asks:

“If not sharing, then what? What policies will reduce the energy requirements of building the vehicle fleet, even when it is electric? Which policies will enable both short-term and long-term carbon pathway compliant transport policy? What makes other policy options more palatable than a major focus on increased sharing?”

The inquiry found that shared mobility could contribute to rapidly decarbonising transport as part of a wider mix of integrated transport options, and that it would offer additional benefits in terms of congestion, financial inclusion, and social integration.

Visit CREDS to see the full report, recommendations and a graphic summarising the main messages.

DecarboN8: a new approach to place-based decarbonisation

Professor Greg Marsden, University of Leeds

This blog celebrates the launch of a new research network called DecarboN8. The network is working with Universities across the N8 research partnership, local authorities and industry across the North to develop an integrated test bed and provide open data on carbon to enable researchers to tackle our critical decarbonisation challenge in transport. But why the North and why indeed ‘place’ based carbon planning?

We already know that there are major differences (more than 100%) between per capita climate change emissions from transport between different local authorities (see Figure 1). This reflects the fact that there are different geographies, different transport alternatives and different fleets. In short, there are different problems and different opportunities. We should therefore be thinking about the potential for different solutions in different places.

Figure 1: Major disparities in per capita CO2 from transport (Source: BEIS 2019)

However, it is not that simple. Vehicles rarely reside solely within one local authority area and might require refuelling or maintenance infrastructure in a wide range of places. This is even more true when heavy goods vehicles are considered. So, there are lots of research challenges to be addressed to understand over what spatial scales co-ordination matters and when local diversity of approach will get us to Net Zero faster.

The North is also an interesting test-bed to develop as it is an area which has pan-regional transport governance through Transport for the North which has been developing its carbon knowledgebase and policies. Underneath that there are a range of agencies on roads, rail, regional and local transport. There are significant uncertainties about the sorts of demand futures that might be planned for and, therefore, the right balance between building carbon intensive infrastructure for different modes or investing in better use of existing assets is difficult to assess. Our work will be trying to develop tools to understand those trade-offs and solutions to deal with the highest carbon issues which arise.

Figure 2: Cross-boundary collaboration will be a key issue in the network ((c)Len Williams)

Finally, we believe that the scale of the carbon transition will pose significant challenges to society. The transition risks being very uneven and this needs to be understood, carbon understanding built and communities brought in to the design of policies and solutions if there is to be any chance of a transition in practice. We will be engaging extensively with the public and with decision-makers across the region as part of our research programme.

The network is open to academics from across the UK, local, regional and national government, industry and community groups. If you would like to follow the activities of the network or help develop a transformational trial in the North then please get in touch.