Smarter Cambridge Transport

How should we respond to the climate emergency?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report turned up the volume on the alarm bell another level. But it seems our government is still not hearing it.

The foreword to the government’s recent Transport Decarbonisation Plan reassures its readers, “It’s not about stopping people doing things: it’s about doing the same things differently. We will still fly on holiday, but in more efficient aircraft, using sustainable fuel. We will still drive on improved roads, but increasingly in zero emission cars.”

This may be true in one or two decades’ time, when we are no longer burning fossil fuels for energy. But we have a mountain to climb before then: 86% of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels, just 1.5% from wind and solar.

In this decade, there is no techno-fix in line to keep cumulative carbon emissions within a relatively safe limit. Drastically reducing our consumption of energy – through travel, goods and services – is the only course of action available.

We can wait for a more authoritarian government to force us to change, or we can start to build consensus for change, through citizens’ assemblies and the like. Provided politicians trust, publicise, respect and support their recommendations, it could work.

The process would start with simply agreeing collectively that there is an urgent need for change. Next comes agreement on a vision of what a low-carbon future looks like. For instance, instead of more roads and car parks, we have:

  • A dense network of safe routes for walking, cycling and riding a mobility- or e-scooter.
  • Travel hubs to connect first/last-mile transport with trains and express buses to major destinations for employment, leisure and onward travel by train or coach.
  • High-frequency bus services to/from travel hubs 6am to midnight.
  • Demand-responsive minibus services to reach everyone who cannot walk or cycle to a travel hub.
  • Ride-sharing schemes and club/hire cars for all other trips.
  • Equitable road pricing for private and freight transport.

Whatever is agreed on, the final step is to guide local government and businesses in translating general principles into locally appropriate infrastructure and services.

This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 25 August 2021.

Edward Leigh

Edward Leigh is the leader of Smarter Cambridge Transport, chair and independent co-opted member of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel, chair of the South Petersfield Residents Association, business owner, consultant, and occasional blogger about making the world and Cambridge a better place to live.