A new study from sustainable energy think tank the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) has stressed the need for encouraging walking and cycling if the transport sector is to cut its carbon emissions in line with government targets.
The report is seen as a direct response to a recent government announcement that it will encourage electric cars by providing a £5,000 subsidy per vehicle from 2011.
The report said the government had to tackle driver behaviour as well as car technology to reduce transport emissions. Cycling should be encouraged by re-allocating road space for its use and car use discouraged by such measures as taxes and levies.
Jillian Anable, head of transport research at UKERC, welcomed the idea of electric cars but said they alone were not the answer. "They're being billed as policies to affect the low-carbon car market and that's very one-dimensional. [The government needs] a set of policies around low-carbon transport transformation so the grants that we see need to be more widely […] targeted to low-carbon travel behaviour."
Road transport accounts for 22 percent of the UK's total carbon emissions, with more than half of that coming from cars. The UKERC report looked at more than 500 international studies examining different policies aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from road transport. .
To enable really significant emissions reductions, Anable said that government should encourage people to reduce their overall dependence on cars by walking or cycling more, working from home or joining car clubs, where several people share a pool of vehicles. "In future, people need to change the types of journeys they're making, not just the mode they're travelling on, not just the technologies of their vehicles. That means the length and destination of journeys, and so on."
If shorter journeys were undertaken by bike and foot to the degree they are in many Northern European countries this could reduce UK transport emissions by some 6 percent - or even more if planning policies were introduced to help reduce distances to vital services - the report stated. The report specifically criticised the government for failing to calculate the potential carbon reducing effects of pro-bike policies.
Friends of the Earth's transport campaigner Tony Bosworth believed the UKERC report was "further evidence that we need a green transport revolution. Low carbon cars, though important, are not enough to tackle transport's contribution to climate change — we must also change how and how much we travel. The RAC revealed this week that people use their cars for over three quarters of journeys between two and three miles long — with proper facilities in place, there's no reason why these journeys couldn't easily be made by bus, bicycle or on foot."
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: "We agree that in order to tackle climate change we need to do more than support electric cars. That is why in addition to the £400m to encourage development and uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles, we also spend £2.5bn a year on buses, £140m on cycling and require local authorities to factor in the impact on the environment when developing their transport strategies."