human activity and the destruction of the planet

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Net Zero: CCC recommendations on how to achieve it

The UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s statutory advisor, published its progress report at the end of June.


According to the report, a number of areas need urgent attention, if the government is to reach its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.  These are:

  • Energy Efficiency – insulating Britain’s homes;
  • Domestic Heating – looking at low carbon alternatives;
  • Electric Vehicles –  the CCC suggests that a complete switch to electric vehicles can be achieved by 2032, earlier than the government’s target of 2035, though car manufacturuers are opposing this;
  • Carbon Tax – this would not hit consumers but could raise £15 billion a year, according to the CCC;
  • Agriculture and Land Use – such as tree planting and nature-friendly farming, which could change agriculture from a major source of emissions to a net absorber;
  • Reskilling and Retraining Programmes – a new workforce will be required to install low-carbon boilers, home insulation and offshore wind farms;
  • Behavioural Changes in Lockdown – showed that many people can work from home, reducing emissions from transport emissions. A new infrastructure to encourage people to cycle or walk to work needs developing;
  • Targeted Science and Innovation Funding – for the development of low-carbon technologies;
  • Adaptations to the Effects of the Climate Crisis – flood defences, protecting homes from hotter summers etc.


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Cars and climate change: the need for more ambition

Advanced online publication by Prof John Whitelegg, Liverpool John Moore’s University – article from the Responsible Science Journal: 27 November 2018.  Also made available on the website of Scientists for Global Responsibility:

In the recent Budget, the UK government announced huge spending of £29 billion for roads. [1] This comes on the back of a recent rise in the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of UK cars – in contrast to falling emissions in most other sectors of the economy. [2] It is clear that the government does not take the issue of pollution from cars seriously enough.

Decarbonising passenger road transport has been heavily researched especially in Sweden under the ‘Fossil Fuel Free’ policy discussion and in Germany in many publications by the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Energy and the Environment. The conclusion from such work is that there is no significant technical or financial problem in totally decarbonising land transport. While the focus of UK government policies tends to be on improving vehicle efficiency – at which it is not doing well – there are actually larger gains to be made from ‘modal shift’ – a wholesale move away from car transport. The problem is a lack of will on the part of politicians to try to implement ‘joined-up’ policies that have a proven impact on reducing GHGs from the transport sector. The measures and interventions that will reduce GHG emissions from cars by 100% were set out in a report which I co-wrote for the Stockholm Environment Institute back in 2010. [3]

Despite this evidence, the UK’s central and local government continue to push forward with extensive road-building projects. Most local authorities are implementing or have recently implemented road schemes, including the Hereford Western Bypass, the Heysham M6 Link Road, the Shrewsbury North West Relief Road and the Port of Liverpool Access Road. These will increase traffic volumes and GHG emissions – as demonstrated by the robust scientific evidence presented in the 1994 SACTRA report which concluded that new roads generate new traffic. [4]

The UK is remarkable in its dismissal of best practice in decarbonising land transport, including cars. The performance of the city of Freiburg in southern Germany is a compelling example of what can be achieved. Through a consistent, funded, co-ordinated transport strategy over at least three decades, Freiburg has reduced car use to 21% of all trips every day and increased bike use to 34% (see figure 1). [5] In a typical UK city – e.g. Liverpool – approximately 2% of all trips every day are by bike and approximately 55% by car. Fundamental GHG reduction in the transport sector can only be achieved by modal shift away from the car on the scale already achieved in Freiburg and many other German, Dutch, Swedish and Danish cities.

Figure 1 – Breakdown of journeys in Freiburg by transport mode, 2016

It is also important to question some of the perspectives commonly presented in this area [6] – especially related to the costs of driving, driverless cars and electric vehicles:

  • Cars “are often cheaper than public transport”. This is not the case although it is a generally held perception. The total cost of travel by car includes obvious things like fuel but also includes less obvious things that need to be replaced at intervals depending on use, e.g. tyres, brakes, exhaust systems. When all costs that vary by distance travelled are included, a car trip is more expensive than a bus trip. [7] In addition, there is a large literature on externalities. Who is paying for the costs generated by the driver but not paid for by the driver, e.g. damage from GHG emissions, deaths and injuries in road crashes, health impacts from local air pollution?
  • “Car travel is just too attractive”. This may be the case in the UK where we have created a poor quality public transport system and do not fund safe cycling infrastructure at the same level as is normal in Denmark or the Netherlands. The alternatives to car travel are far more attractive than the car in places such as Copenhagen, Berlin, Lund, Oslo, Zurich or rural Switzerland.
  • Driverless cars (autonomous vehicles) strengthen and deepen the car-centric ideology that currently dominates all UK discussions. The driverless car still needs road space and converts our streets into vehicle-dominated unpleasant spaces when they should be people-friendly and child-friendly spaces. They also are intended to replace public transport and will need physical changes to streets to stop pedestrians and cyclists “getting in the way”. [8]
  • Electric vehicles (EVs) may well reduce GHGs but only if a secure electricity supply is based on very high levels of renewable energy. EVs still produce particulate (PM) emissions from non-exhaust sources (brake wear, tyre wear and road surface abrasion). The European Environment Agency has stated that “90% of total PM emissions from road traffic by end of decade will come from non-exhaust sources”. [9]

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UK Government’s plan to ban new diesel and petrol vehicles by 2040

Whilst this sounds like an overdue move forward in meeting the Paris agreement emissions targets and dealing with severe air pollution, it is actually very disappointing. 2040 is actually 23 years away and we need action now.

Friends of the Earth have responded to the news by focusing on air pollution issues, as follows:

“The government’s plans to clean up our dirty air are simply not good enough.

Its much anticipated Air Quality Plan has now been published. But it doesn’t do enough to tackle toxic air pollution and save lives now.

What’s wrong with the plan?

There’s a big announcement – banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040 – but this isn’t a plan to end illegal air pollution now, or even anytime soon.

It’s a cynical move designed to grab headlines. Everyone knows what’s needed to give us breathable air:

  • Clean Air Zones areas in which the most polluting vehicles are charged to enter.
  • A diesel scrappage scheme to help drivers switch away from the most polluting vehicles.
  • A levy on the manufacturers who cheated emissions tests to pay for it.

Instead of this the government is passing the buck to local authorities. And as a result people will continue to have their lives cut short because of air pollution.

All in all it’s a cynical move by the government to grab the headlines by announcing changes for 23 years’ time and failing to take serious action now.”

My own perspective on this is to ask the question, “Why has it taken so long for the UK car industry to produce affordable electric and hybrid vehicles?”  We have known about this issue for years now and yet the car manufacturers have continued producing petrol and diesel vehicles, some of them high performance, as if they were safe for the environment.  And my other question is about the infrastructure needed to support the use of electric vehicles. Many British citizens would happily move to electric vehicles if they knew how to easily charge them up – and plan for long journeys.


More access to charging facilities is needed plus quicker charging processes

Yet, car sales continue to rise and, whilst there are more hybrid and electric vehicles being sold in the UK, this is peanuts compared with the greater increases in the sales of petrol and diesel vehicles.  The figures below from 2014, published in chapter 2 (p.46) of my book confirm this.


The actual numbers for the UK in 2014 were:

Petrol fuelled vehicles new registrations             1,184,409               47.8%

Diesel fuelled vehicles new registrations             1,240,287                50.1%

Alternative fuel vehicles new registrations               51,739                  2.1%


Other European countries, such as Norway, are doing far better than this and others are imposing bans on the sale of new petrol vehicles far sooner than the UK is (eg Netherlands by 2025).  Why are we being so slow about it?  Is it that business interests take priority over the environment?


Source: Wikipedia

My other questions is: what about used vehicles?  Are they to be banned from UK roads after 2040 or is it just new vehicles which will be affected?

The measures clearly don’t go far enough.

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Open Letter to Party Leaders on Climate Change and the UK Economy – from Scientists for Global Responsibility

Open letter sent to the eight political party leaders at the UK parliament on 13 June 2017:
Dear Madam/ Sir

In the wake of the inconclusive general election result and bearing in mind the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, we are writing to leaders of UK parliamentary parties to urge you to unite around a common cause – tackling climate change – as a way of helping to provide major economic, social and environmental benefits at this time of uncertainty. Not only does there continue to be there very strong scientific evidence on the urgency of this global threat, but measures to tackle it offer major opportunities to exploit science and technology to create jobs, tackle fuel poverty, reduce local air pollution and provide many other co-benefits for British society. The UK could capitalise on the renewed international commitment to tackling climate change in the wake of the ill-informed decision of President Trump to withdraw the USA from the Paris Agreement.

We have noted the widespread commitment to tackling climate change in the party manifestos. While there is some diversity in the approaches, there are many common factors. Hence, as a priority, we urge strong support for:

  • Home energy conservation programmes. These will both reduce carbon emissions and help to tackle fuel poverty, which is estimated to be responsible for nearly 8,000 UK deaths a year.1
  • Renewable energy projects – especially wind, solar, marine and biogas technologies and community-led projects. With costs for many of these falling rapidly, the potential economic and employment benefits are very large2 – and government opinion polling shows these technologies are especially popular.3
  • Energy storage technologies, including batteries, power-to-gas systems, and pumped hydro storage. Many of these technologies are already rapidly falling in cost, and they have high potential to complement the variable renewable energy sources.4 Electric vehicles will play a key role here, and their widespread adoption will help to reduce the number of UK deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution, currently estimated at 40,000 per year.5

We further recommend the following additional actions, which we strongly believe will complement those above:

  • End subsidies for fossil fuels, especially for unconventional sources like shale gas. The growth of a large-scale shale gas industry in this country is likely to seriously undermine Britain’s climate targets, as the Committee on Climate Change has warned.6 Furthermore, the technique of hydraulic fracturing (or ‘fracking’) is not popular with the British public,7 partly as it creates significant risks for the local environment.
  • End new commitments to nuclear power stations. These create unique and unresolved economic, security, environmental and safety risks.

Finally, we urge you to use any political influence you have in the USA to try to convince President Trump that climate change is a serious threat to his country as well as the world, and that his government needs to change course. Indeed, his failure to support cleaner industries in his own country is very likely to have a negative impact on the economy there.

We would be interested to hear your thoughts on our recommendations.


Your sincerely

Dr Stuart Parkinson

Executive Director

Dr Philip Webber




1. Energy Bill Revolution (2015). Fuel poverty.

2. REN21 (2017). Renewables 2017 Global Status Report.

3. BEIS (2017). Energy and Climate Change Public Attitudes Tracker.

4. Goodall C (2016). The Switch: How solar, storage and new tech means cheap power for all. Profile Books.

5. Royal College of Physicians et al (2016). Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution.

6. Committee on Climate Change (2016). The compatibility of UK onshore petroleum with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets.

7. As note 3.