Transport and Climate Change: 2006 Perspectives

Climate temperature anomolies global time series

Here we are, it’s 2019, but how did all this look a dozen years ago? In this broad-based overview article published in 2006, Professor Lee Chapman of the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science at University of Birmingham,  reviews the impact of various modes of transport with respect to climate change inducing greenhouse gas emissions and discusses ways in which society can adapt to reduce the impacts. Let’s take a look and see what has changed, what has been done, and what has been learned..

This paper reviews the impact of various modes of transport with respect to climate change inducing greenhouse gas emissions and discusses ways in which society can adapt to reduce the impacts.


Transport accounts for 26% of global CO2 emissions and is one of the few industrial sectors where emissions are still growing. Car use, road freight and aviation are the principal contributors to greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector and this review focuses on  approaches to reduce emissions from these three problem areas.

An assessment of new technologies including alternative transport fuels to break the dependence on petroleum is presented, although it appears that technological innovation is unlikely to be the sole answer to the climate change problem.

To achieve a stabilisation of greenhouse gas emissions from transport, behavioural change brought about by policy will also be required. Pressure is growing on policy makers to tackle the issue of climate change with a view to providing sustainable transport. Although, there is a tendency to focus on long-term technological solutions, short-term behavioural change is crucial if the benefits of new technology are to be fully realised.

1. Introduction

Over the last century, the planet has metaphorically contracted as transport has developed to meet the demands of the populous. Global participation in this expansion has been disproportionate (WBCSD, 2001) as the driving force for transport demand is ultimately economic growth, which in itself results in an increased need for travel. Although this link is gradually weakening (DfT, 2004a), there are few signs of a full breakdown in the unsustainable relationship between increasing incomes and transport emissions (Schipper and Fulton, 2003).

The reliance on transport appears to be causing long-term damage to the climate, and the ever-increasing consumption of fossil fuels means that peak production of petroleum is imminent (Duncan and Youngquist, 1999) and world resources will near exhaustion within 50 years (Oman, 2003). Rapid decisions now need to be made so that the impacts of transport on the environment can be minimised and fossil fuel resources conserved.


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7. Conclusions

This review has investigated ways in which technological and behavioural change can reduce the combustion of fossil fuels, and thus greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector. Although policy can respond quickly under pressure, in reality it is a slow process (Greene and Wegener, 1997) and there is a growing expectation on new technology to deliver the solution. Improvements in energy efficiency and research into new fuels will be part of the answer to meeting long-term CO2 targets such as those laid down by the Kyoto protocol.

Indeed, without new technologies, such emission reduction targets may be considered impossible to meet by policy alone, and therefore not adopted. (Sandan and Azar, 2005). Unfortunately, although technology could theoretically provide the required reduction in CO2, this would be a difficult, expensive and long term solution. In the short term, policies to change behaviour and travel habits are more important than technological solutions (Anable and Boardman, 2005).

Ultimately, policy needs to tackle the time management of people and lifestyles (Banister, 2000), yet technological solutions currently dominate policy for transport and climate change (Anable and Boardman, 2005). So called smart measures which encourage voluntary behaviour change do not have mainstream status, despite such policy change being essential to reap the benefits of future technology.

For the three problem sectors identified in this review, it would be simple to conclude that modal shift provides the 364 L. Chapman / Journal of Transport Geography 15 (2007) 354–367 answer to stabilisation of carbon emissions in the transport sector. In reality, modal shift may form part of the solution, but there are a combination other measures which would provide a quicker and easier solution over a shorter timescale.

• Car ownership and use.

It is difficult to see how the large scale behavioural change required to perform a modal shift could happen. Transport systems and urban layouts have great inertia and take years to change (Lenzen et al., 2003; Bristow et al., 2004). As a result, too many journeys remain tied into car usage and without large scale investment it would seem impossible to overcome the barriers. Instead, short term measures promoting behavioural change may provide the answer. By offering substantial tax incentives on smaller cars, manufacturers will make, and people will buy environmentally friendly cars. This can be further reinforced by targeted marketing and raising public awareness (e.g. car labelling).

Other viable short term tools include promoting walking, cycling, ecological driving and soft measures (Anable and Boardman, 2005; Schipper and Fulton, 2003).

Although seen as more of a long-term solution, landuse planning is perceived as a greater tool to sustainability then soft measures (Bristow et al., 2004) and simple
adaptations such as reallocating roadspace and reducing parking are relatively quick and easy to implement.

Finally, technology will play a role in the medium term, with an emphasis on improving engine and car design (e.g. hybrids and electric cars) perhaps providing the best way forward (Bristow et al., 2004).

. . .

In summary, behavioural change is the key factor to enable transport to pull its weight in relation to other sectors, although technology will help to a certain extent (DfT, 2005b).

By using a combination of taxes, regulations, better technology and demand restraint, CO2 emissions could eventually stabilise, but the effect of these on transport and the wider economy is unknown (IEA, 2000; WBCSD, 2001); the results so far have not been impressive (Button and Nijkamp, 1997).

Relying on new technology is not the answer in itself and increasing willingness of the populous to adapt to complement climate change mitigation by technology is crucial. Without an improvement in energy efficiency or a growth in zero-carbon technologies, the goal of CO2 stabilisation is technically impossible (Schafer and Victor, 1999) as the transport policies in place will not significantly reduce CO2 emissions in the short term (IEA, 2002). Ultimately, the overall issue of climate change and transport is in fact part of a much larger challenge of sustainable development.

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About the author:

Lee ChapmanProfessor Lee Chapman’s research interests are at the interface of climatology and engineering investigating the impact of weather and climate on the built environment; an important research area given the ever-increasing concentration (and vulnerability) of the population and critical infrastructure in urban areas. This covers a range of topics and sub-disciplines including infrastructure meteorology, urban climatology and climate change adaptation.  Knowledge transfer and business engagement are at the heart of this research agenda and he continues to work extensively with industry to ensure maximum impact from ongoing research activities.

He can be reached via or +44 0121 414 7435

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About the editor, project coordinator

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | | #fekbritton | | and | Contact: | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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