COP15: Up Against the Clock. World Transport Policy & Practice on “no excuse” results

The latest edition of our favorite sustainable transport journal, World Transport Policy and Practice, was published today and Volume 15. Number 3 is now available for immediate downloading from Bikes, school travel, traffic systems and good planning systems all get a good run in this latest issue, but it is the editor’s strong words on the run-up to Copenhagen you will want to read first.

Journal of World Transport Policy and Practice, Vol. 15, No. 3

– To download Vol. 15, No. 3:


With less than two weeks to go to the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit, what would all of our authors and subscribers labouring away in the vineyards of sustainable transport really want the decision-takers to do?

For the purposes of this brief discussion we will not dwell on whether or not they are able to or want to make decisions, but move immediately on to what they might do if we assume ability and a will to act. Let us assume that the planet and all its species is/are facing a significantly elevated probability of catastrophe linked to climate change. Let us assume that the probabilities of severe consequences are positively correlated with greenhouse gas emissions. The more of these gases we produce and the longer they live in the atmosphere, the more likely they are to drive planetary systems towards some of these negative consequences:

* Switching off of the Gulf Steam with large temperature drops in NW Europe

* Higher atmospheric temperatures releasing carbon locked up in tundra and adding non-linear change to carbon build up and concentration (runaway feedback)

* Rising sea levels wiping out large areas of densely populated territory e.g. coastal Bangladesh

* Ice shelf/sheet/glacier melt reducing the area covered by reflecting white ice and adding to the area covered by absorbing darker colours (i.e. the sea)

* More disease related to insect vectors and the spread of disease

* More Katrina type disasters

* Large scale out-migration from environmentally stressed areas of the planet

* Loss of food production

We can of course dismiss all this as nonsense, but on the balance of probabilities and on the consideration of precautionarity, and on the evidence of win-win situations, it would be a mistake to be dismissive. We already have enough understanding of transport problems to realise that sorting out climate change can also sort out air pollution and reduce the 3,000 dead bodies every day associated with our love of large metal boxes hurtling around our streets and roads. There is very little to lose from a huge programme of carbon reduction in transport and a great deal to gain.

In a rational, precautionary world concerned with social justice, health and happiness it would be reasonable to expect our political leaders in Copenhagen to agree to some basic changes in the way governance, policy and justice work. We could quite reasonably expect:

* A commitment to reduce greenhouse gases from all sources including transport by a minimum of 80% by 2050 in the EU, US, Australia and all OECD countries

* The adoption of a “no excuses” policy framework. All transport modes will produce a reduction in greenhouse gases by 80% including cars, trucks, shipping and aviation

* All reductions will be “real” and will not be the result of fancy arithmetic related to emissions trading or investing in schemes elsewhere in the world that enable carbon credits to be purchased

* All transport modes shall have all external costs fully internalised (moving around will cost more)

* Cities will be re-engineered to foster significant increases in walking and cycling and to reallocate highway space so that as much space as possible is allocated to zero carbon modes

* Transport subsides of all kinds to high speed trains, aircraft, aviation and trucks shall cease

This would make a good start but of course it won’t happen. Our political leaders do not have the will to deliver serious climate change policies and do not believe that a low carbon future is both possible and desirable.

In this sense they have taken up exactly the same position as those politicians in the UK and France and Holland in the late 18th century who argued strongly in support of slavery. It was possible at that time to put forward a strong argument in favour of slavery just as it is now possible to put forward strong arguments for a business as usual scenario based on fossil fuels, hyper-mobility, globalisation and free trade. The slavery debate now looks quite shameful. How could senior politicians and business leaders argue in favour of slavery? Nevertheless, they did and several votes in the UK House of Commons rejected attempts to abolish slavery.

This is the scenario for Copenhagen. How can senior politicians and world leaders duck and weave and dodge and not agree “no excuse” carbon reduction strategies to be in place as quickly as possible? Nevertheless, they will and once again it will be shameful, but this time we are up against the clock and we may well not have the luxury of several repeated attempts that worked in favour of the anti-slavery campaign.

John Whitelegg
Stockholm Environment Institute

Contents, Vol. 15, No. 3

Editorial – John Whitelegg

Abstracts & Keywords

Cooperative web based bicycle routing database for trip planning, including dynamic weather integration – Marcus Wigan, Poul Grashoff, Fred van der Wouden

School Travel Modes preferences in Dar Es Salaam City – Hannibal Bwire

Traffic Systems for an Improved City Environment – Lars Ekman, Lena Smidfelt Rosqvist, Pia Westford

Good planning principles far from enough to make a change Post-script on Traffic Systems for an Improved City Environment – Lena Smidfelt Rosqvist

# # #

For more on Eco-Logica and the Journal, click here –


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s