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Joining the dots on transport will deliver better climate action

Transport has overtaken energy as the UK's biggest source of carbon emissions. Cities must urgently view transport, energy and decarbonisation of the built environment as related fields challenges, says Dr Clare Linton

Three years ago transport became the biggest emitting sector of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for over a quarter of the UK’s emissions (26 per cent) and surpassing the energy sector (25 per cent) for the first time. Provisional statistics show transport’s share could now be as high as a third. The sector is the worst culprit for its contribution to climate change and it has reduced emissions by just 3 per cent since 1990, compared with 59 per cent for energy supply.

So what can we do about it? One of the opportunities for cities to tackle the climate crisis is to join the dots on transport, energy and the adaptation and decarbonisation of the built environment. Because as well as being a large consumer of energy, our infrastructure is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which will be more profound in urban areas – with heavy rainfall on hard surfaces causing widespread flooding, and urban heat island effects exacerbating heatwaves. Our transport infrastructure also generates energy, often as waste heat, which can be put to use to make our cities more sustainable.

"There are clearly multiple co-benefits of taking coordinated action"

Urban Transport Group’s recent report, Making the Connections on Climate, draws together practical examples of the climate links that can be made between these sectors at the city-region level. Innovative case studies include Transport for London’s project to warm homes using waste heat from the Underground and buses on the streets of Nottingham powered by biomethane derived from sewage and household waste. Not only are these projects and policies reducing emissions and, in many cases, improving adaptation to anticipated climate change impacts, but they are also delivering wider benefits such as lower energy and maintenance costs, job creation, improved air quality, and higher satisfaction among employees and customers of transport systems. For cities aspiring to be greener, healthier and more prosperous places, there are clearly multiple co-benefits of taking coordinated action.

A unique aspect of the report is its aim to challenge those who work across different sectors in cities, including professionals who plan transport, energy and other built infrastructure, to move away from silo-based thinking. In Munich, transport and energy teams are integrated in one municipal company (Stadtwerke München) to power the city’s public transport with renewable energy.

The urgency of addressing the climate crisis can seem overwhelming, so the report seeks to provide a sense of agency and source of inspiration on measures that can be taken on both a project and wider city level to enhance effective climate action. 

Dr Clare Linton is policy and research advisor at the Urban Transport Group

Image credit | Shutterstock




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