Climate Solutions – Transport & Travel


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Background Information

Information about the carbon emissions of various modes of transport

The European Environment Agency is a good source of data on carbon emissions for a variety of topics including transport. They publish regular reports on this topic; the data shown in the infographic is from their TERM 2013 report and provides a good comparison of the emissions generated by a range of modes of transport.

We used the TERM 2013 data to create the annual travel scenario for travelers A and B in our infographic. In this case we assumed that they would make an identical set of journeys during the year and the only difference would be the mode of transport. The imagined set of journeys is as follows:

  • A daily round trip commute of 45 km, 220 days per year
  • Occasional shopping round trips of 45 km to a larger town, 12 times per year
  • Family visits to relatives involving a round trip of ~500 km, 4 times per year
  • Annual holiday to Spain involving a return trip to Barcelona of ~2300 km, 1 time per year

Traveler A is in the habit of using their diesel car for their journeys and choosing to fly when they go on their holiday. In this scenario their annual carbon emissions would be around 2,000 kg per year (that is 2 tons of CO2).

Traveler B doesn’t have a car and instead chooses to walk to the station and get the train for the regular journeys. They have discovered that it is also quite easy to travel to Spain by train for their annual holiday. In this scenario their annual carbon emissions would be around 200 kg per year (that is 0.2 tons of CO2) which is a tenth that of traveler A.

Of course, every person’s situation is different and these scenarios are only models. What is important to consider is that every journey adds to our carbon emissions and we have a choice of what mode of transport we take or even whether we need to make the journey at all.

How have transport emissions in the UK changed over time?

The UK government department of transport publishes regular statistics relating to domestic and international travel. The 2017 report includes some useful data on the carbon emissions relating to transport.

  • In 2016 transport was responsible for 27% of UK carbon emissions
    • Of those emissions 42% was from cars and 21% was from flights, that’s ~2/3 of transport emissions.
  • Since 1990:
    • the level of emissions from cars has changed very little despite increasing car numbers; this is attributed to improved fuel efficiency
    • emissions from flights has nearly doubled; this is mainly from international travel

What could the future of transport be like?

There are a multitude of ways in which we can improve the way we travel both in terms of reducing our emissions and enhancing the efficiency of our transport networks; several of these are captured in the Project Drawdown Solutions.

We should not forget that there are many additional benefits to making these changes. The quality of our air will be greatly improved leading to better health and, increased active travel (walking and cycling) will improve our fitness levels and reduce the stress we encounter in our daily lives.

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