Glasgow City Council has decided to invest £75,000 in designing a pilot of free public transport, to include buses, trains and the Subway. This decision was a result of more than five years of campaigning by Get Glasgow Moving, strengthened over the last two years by Free Our City, a coalition of climate activists, trade unions and passenger groups.
Representatives of ScotE3, Glasgow Trades Council, Friends of the Earth Scotland, Migrants Organising for Rights and Empowerment, and Govan Community Council, all active members of the Free Our City Coalition, met last week with a Council officer and a representative of Stantec, the large transport consultancy company which won the commission to design a free public transport pilot, whose report to the Council is scheduled for June.
Free public transport, now available in many cities across the world, is vital for reducing Glasgow’s carbon emissions and the many inequalities which plague Glasgow. Get Glasgow Moving had already met separately with Stantec.
Free Our City made these main points to Stantec:
The pilot must be universal, including all households in Glasgow. Households often plan journeys with other households not in their locality. Anything less than a universal pilot will not provide a reliable evidence base.
It’s vital that Stantec develop the pilot as paving the way for free public transport for all in the longer term – otherwise the pilot will be pointless.
We suggested that the Council could buy out the private bus companies for the duration of the pilot, agreeing a price based on their current income (trains and the Subway are already publicly owned).
Stantec should identify funding opportunities from the Scottish Government for rolling out free public transport across Greater Glasgow – not just say to Glasgow City Council “this is how much it’ll cost”.
There are no examples of effective public transport under private ownership internationally, but plenty of examples under public ownership. Public ownership should be tightly connected to the understanding of how any full scheme could be delivered, as the cross-subsidy benefits of having a whole system under public ownership may reduce the total cost of a free scheme for which a franchise system may over-estimate the total cost.
We asked to be kept informed as they developed their project and offered to meet again.
Here’s the REEL News film of the Free Our City demonstration at the Glasgow COP
An international conference in Brussels organised by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation 27-28 June
Ellie Harrison (Get Glasgow Moving) and Mike Downham (ScotE3), representing their organisations in the Free Our City coalition which campaigns for free, publicly owned, democratically controlled buses across Greater Glasgow, were invited to speak at this conference as a result of contacts made during COP26. They also showed the Reel News film of the Free Our City protest during the COP as previously published on this Blog.
Here Mike Downham summarises his reactions to the conference:
It was a privilege and a pleasure to be invited to speak at this conference and to get to know in the evenings the other speakers from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Brazil.
The lid on the coffin of cars was firmly nailed down, whether powered by a combustion engine or by electricity. It was clearly demonstrated that if cars continue to be produced there is no way that carbon emissions can be reduced in time to avoid a more than 1.5 degree rise in global temperature or that levels of poverty will fall in time to prevent societal chaos, despite the huge effort by car manufacturers to greenwash electric cars. We were able to point out that in any case only 49% of households in Glasgow have access to a car – that figure predating the price rise in cars and the cost of living crisis.
The EU’s carbon emissions discourse has been reduced to targets and choice of technology, with little reference to just transition for the millions of car manufacturing workers across Europe – 800,000 in Germany alone – nor to the transformation needed, especially in the way we move about our cities. Furthermore the emissions targets look less and less realistic.
Moving to mass transport is as urgent as stopping oil and gas extraction. Free public transport is also a more immediately attractive concept for large numbers of people than doing without oil and gas.
Three expert speakers (Ellie Harrison of Get Glasgow Moving, Alana Dave of the International Transport Workers Federation, and Mario Candeias of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation) told us exactly what needs to be done about public transport – above all that it needs to be publicly owned, democratically controlled, integrated in a way that gets people quickly to where they want to go, and free.
Key to the transformation of transport are the highly developed skills, self-esteem and producer pride of car production workers. These skills are needed in the production of electric buses, trains, bicycles and ships. Some but not all workers will need new training, giving them the choice to remain within the transport sector or into other carbon negative sectors like renewable energy, or carbon neutral jobs in public services.
Transport needs to be seen as a common good and a right. Mobility poverty is as urgent an issue as fuel poverty and food poverty, though in Brazil, where there are 30 million hungry people, transformation of transport will inevitably take longer to achieve, even if Lula regains power.
Once again we know what to do – that’s not the issue – the issue is how to achieve the power to get it done. But transport workers have more power than most other workers, both because so many people rely on them in their day-to-day lives, and because many of their skills are hard to replace – witness the current RMT rail workers strikes, and the Rolls Royce workers in East Kilbride who grounded half the Chilean Air Force in 1974.
Mario Candeias speaks of a pathway to power:
MOVEMENTS → STATE INTERVENTION → PUBLIC OWNERSHIP → INDUSTRIAL STRUCTURAL CHANGE OVERSEEN REGIONALLY BY WORKERS AND USERS
The question is what movements? He suggests partnerships between existing trade unions and civil society organisations. In my opinion movements which can reach sufficient scale fast enough are more likely to arise from new formations, especially those led by young people currently active for climate justice. These are currently targeting their civil disobedience on oil, gas and coal production sites, recognising that opposing forces largely reside in the fossil fuel industries. Will they also see the need to target car production sites to challenge the huge power of Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW?
These discussions were taking place in Brussels, where it’s estimated that there are between 15,000 and 30,000 lobbyists – that’s between 20 and 40 per Member of the European Parliament. Of these 87.5% represent capital interests.
The most encouraging thing for me was to have two days in international company – the first non-remote opportunity for me since before the pandemic. I was left reflecting about the central importance of workers and communities united across borders in opposing the power of capital. The EU is perhaps an object lesson about how not to deal with borders – the old issue of merging economically, but retaining political independence. The speaker from Hungary described his country as in a “German trap”, German companies using cheaper Hungarian labour for their assembly lines for both cars and weapons.
Further reading – English copies of these three booklets, all published by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, are available free in limited numbers. If you’re interested please contact me first at firstname.lastname@example.org
Switching Lanes by Mario Candeias, 2022
The European Car Lobby by Tobias Haas and Hendrick Sander, 2019
We are pleased to republish this statement from the Climate Justice Coalition – please follow up on the suggested actions and share widely
Solidarity with RMT members – no Climate Justice without workplace justice
The Climate Justice Coalition stands in solidarity with RMT members taking industrial action to protect their pay, jobs and working conditions, and the wider fight to protect a public transport system for people – social need – not private greed. Billions are being cut from our transport system at a time when we should be increasing investment to ensure a fully public, affordable, integrated, and sustainable transport system.
Our railways are already being impacted by the effects of climate change, putting additional demands on a stretched workforce providing an essential public service. This action by the Government is symptomatic of their disregard for the concerns of climate, environment, and workers.
As a coalition representing groups within climate and environmental campaigns, faith, race and social justice groups, and trade unions, we call on you all to support this struggle. This includes adding our voices to resist the anti-trade union and worker narrative being driven by the Government in the mainstream media and publicise that it is their inaction and behaviour that is detrimental to people, not workers seeking justice.
Inaction on climate change is harming innocent people across the globe. Protecting the rights of workers and living standards must be a priority for the climate justice movement in fighting for a Just Transition to a zero-carbon economy.
We stand with the RMT to fight for their aims, and to campaign for a better deal for workers and a fairer, climate just, society.
Support the Strike:
Write a letter of solidarity to the striking workers from your organisation, union branch or group: info@RMT.org.uk
Transport workers, members of the RMT working for ScotRail and Calmac Ferries protested outside Bute House – the first minister’s official residence today. Several speakers stressed that cutting more than 300 services and closing ticket offices at many stations is unacceptable and particularly so only two months after politicians at COP26 were pledging to tackle the climate crisis. Trains and ferries are an essential part of Scotland’s transport infrastructure and critical to a zero carbon future.
Solidarity with rail, ferry and energy workers, members of the RMT union who are protesting on Monday 31st January in Edinburgh. Assemble 11am on the Waverley Station concourse.
This is the RMT press statement
28 January 2022 – RMT Press Office
Transport and energy workers to protest on 31 January in Edinburgh against betrayal of COP26 promises
Marking the three-month anniversary of the beginning of the COP26 Climate Conference – on 31st January – transport and energy workers are to march to the office of the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to protest at the betrayal by the SNP / Green Government of commitments made to move towards a greener Scotland.
The protest by rail, ferry and energy workers who are members of the RMT will be the start of a concerted campaign to increase the pressure on politicians as the country approaches the local government elections in May.
The charge sheet against the Scottish Government includes:
• Instead of cutting climate change, the SNP/ Green Government is cutting rail services including rail ticket offices hours, timetables and infrastructure while the cost of rail travel is increasing at four times the rate of using a car. • Instead of securing our vital lifeline ferry services in the public sector, ministers appear to be paving the way for privatisation where profits will be put before people and climate. • Instead of helping guarantee the livelihoods of energy workers, ministers have sold Scotland’s renewable energy resources on the cheap to the likes of BP and Shell without securing supply chain jobs. RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: “COP26 started only three months ago but already the lofty rhetoric about fighting climate change seems a distant memory as we witness a betrayal of ambitions by the SNP / Green Government to move towards a greener Scotland.
“Instead of cutting climate change the Government is cutting rail services and ticket offices, threatening the privatisation of our lifeline ferry services and doing far too little to protect the livelihoods of energy workers and the vital service they provide.
“As the country approaches the local government elections in May this protest will be the start of a concerted campaign to persuade politicians to protect these services and jobs which are so vital to our local communities.”
There will be a protest on Tuesday 8th June at 12 noon in George Square against Glasgow City Council’s stealthy collusion with the Scottish Government in a last-ditch attempt to block the introduction of a new free bus service across Greater Glasgow – for details see this post.
Free, decarbonised, integrated, Covid-safe, publicly owned, worker-and-user-controlled public transport is the most immediately possible and effective way to address all elements of the current crisis – climate, Covid, poverty, exclusion, inequality.
The time and date of the protest have been timed to coincide with a critical Council meeting on its Climate Emergency Implementation Plan
Please turn up and spread the word. Wear masks and observe social distancing.
Public transport campaigners in Glasgow have led the way in showing how a transport system that meets people’s needs is an important part of the transition to a zero carbon economy. Mike Downham explains why Glasgow City Council’s response to the campaign is desperately inadequate.
There’s a stitch up going on between the SNP Scottish Government (led by Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport) and the SNP Glasgow City Council, along with the Glasgow City Region Cabinet of eight local authorities (SNP Councillor Susan Aitken leads the former and chairs the latter).
While the SNP have made the long overdue renationalisation of Scotrail one of the central themes of their current election campaign, they are actively inhibiting even tentative steps to reintroduce public control to the bus network.
According to Glasgow’s dominant bus operator First, it’s “practical changes on the ground for the people of Glasgow that are needed, not a stale and out of date regulatory debate.” Here at ATF we would tend to disagree – questions of ownership, power and accountability are crucial to the functioning of any part of society, whether that’s football clubs or local buses. Scotland’s private bus operators have had three decades to show they can deliver a good service, and it’s been a resounding failure. But while securing the power for local authorities to tackle this issue is all very well, if it isn’t resourced and worse still, actively undermined, then what’s the point?
The Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 enabled and encouraged Local Authorities to explore three options – Bus Service Improvement Partnerships (BSIPS), Franchises, and Municipal Ownership. But in November last year the Scottish Government announced a £500 million Bus Partnership Fund, restricting the fund to the development by Local Transport Authorities of BSIPS. “The Bus Partnership Fund will complement the powers in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, enabling local authorities to work in partnership with bus operators, to develop and deliver ambitious schemes that incorporate bus priority measures”. The Government hasn’t even given guidelines for the exploration of Franchises or Municipal Ownership. Now Glasgow City Council is talking up their progress with a BSIP, as if Franchises and Municipal Ownership aren’t options – despite having previously committed to exploring all three options.
This sleight of hand, under cover of the public focus on Covid-19, is not only dishonest and utterly undemocratic – it’s potentially disastrous for the millions of people across Greater Glasgow who depend on bus transport and for whom the current system is both unfit for purpose and unaffordable. It amounts to another scandalous hand-out to the private bus companies.
Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, spoke in March this year at the Get Glasgow Moving AGM, as a follow-up to his visit to Glasgow in 2018 to collect evidence for his report. He said three things about public transport: first that an efficient and free public transport system in Glasgow would be the most immediate and most realistic way to address Glasgow’s huge poverty and human rights issues; second that there were many examples internationally where this had been achieved through public, democratic control or ownership; and third that there were absolutely no examples internationally where a privately owned public transport system had met needs and rights.
Meanwhile Greater Manchester made history in March “by becoming the first UK city-region to commit to re-regulating its buses since Margaret Thatcher de-regulated them in 1986”, see this report on the Get Glasgow Moving website.
A transition to electric cars is part of both the Scottish and UK governments’ plans to tackle the climate crisis. Here we reprint (with permission) a post by SIMON PIRANI first published on the People and Nature blog, which takes a critical look at the Westminster government’s strategy.
The UK government has put electric cars at the centre of its disastrous climate strategy, which doesn’t even aim for half the needed greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
The focus on electric cars – which goes together with a gigantic £27 billion road-building programme – is opposed by researchers of climate science, transport policy, engineering and urban planning. Their advice has in practice been ignored.
The Labour leadership is happy with the electric cars narrative, leaving researchers and campaigners outside parliament to point out that electrification, without an immediate, giant shift towards public transport, cycling and walking – and away from individually-owned cars – will never come close to decarbonising transport at any meaningful pace.
In the run-up to the international climate talks in Glasgow in November, it is vital that the government’s cynical PR strategy is unmasked.
Support for electric cars was a highlight of the government’s ten-point plan for a “green industrial revolution”, announced in November. Sales of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2030 – that is, after the most vital decade for action on climate has already passed.
Labour called only for a tweak to the government’s plan – bringing forward the ban on hybrid vehicles from 2035 to 2030. Even Greenpeacesaid the electric car policy was the “star of the show”, needing only more support for delivery.
The seductive logic, shared across the political spectrum, is that the cost of electric cars will soon fall fast enough that motorists will snap them up.
The fact that electric cars are far from “zero carbon” gets lost. (See Note 1 below.) The fact that, if we don’t want global temperatures to go more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, emissions will have to be cut at more than twice the rate the government intends, gets lost too. (See Note 2.)
The voices of researchers who actually study the role of transport systems in the climate crisis need to be amplified.
Why the ten point plan makes no sense
Although the 2030 phase out of petrol and diesel cars is welcome, “in reality it is a delaying tactic”, argued climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Dan Calverley in response to the ten-point plan. “Climate change requires immediate action, not a promise for action in ten years.”
The plan passes the buck of mitigating climate change to another government, several electoral cycles down the line. More importantly, it obliges our children to remove colossal quantities of (our) carbon directly from the atmosphere, or attempt to live with the consequences of dangerous climate change. […]
Far from being a ‘green revolution’, this is simply business as usual, where the predict-and-provide paradigm of car ownership and road building go hand in hand.
That last point was echoed by Nick Eyre of the Centre for Research on Energy Demand Solutions, a prominent UK energy policy researcher. The government plan is “very far from a coherent strategy”, he wrote.
It “reads like a shopping list of interesting technologies that might be grafted on to the existing energy system” – but “fails to recognise the more fundamental needs for change and links to other policy areas”.
The plan mentions £9.2 billion for public transport, cycling and walking – but “on closer inspection, none of this is new money”, Eyre pointed out. So that would just put pressure on austerity-damaged local councils … while the £27 billion road building plan stays in place – albeit under legal challenge.
For transport researchers, the electric-car-focused plan was proof of government indifference to their calls for integrated transport policy that reduces the number of car journeys, and the speed and number of cars, and boosts public transport, cycling and walking.
“If we really were committed to reducing climate-damaging carbon emissions […] we would cancel road building and switch all the funding to world-best joined up thinking about transport”, wrote John Whitelegg of the Foundation for Integrated Transport.
But of course the government is not really committed, at all. And Whitelegg pointed to one reason why … car culture, that is such a key element of 21st century capitalism:
The prioritisation of cars goes deeper. We allocate huge amounts of space to cars that could very easily be used for green space, affordable housing, trees and parks. We encourage anti-social, unpleasant pavement parking in residential areas so that children and other pedestrians have to walk in the middle of the road. There is no space for anyone with a pushchair or wheel chair. The car takes up space that belongs to the people and this is ignored by councils and central government.
University-based transport researchers have churned out dozens of articles, over years, explaining ways of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
A recent one highlighted that in order to meet the climate targets implied in the 2015 Paris agreement, the UK would need, first, to ban hybrid cars (that can run on either petrol or electricity) as well as petrol and diesel ones, and, second, support “lifestyle and social change” that would alter the nature of journeys people need or want to make, and encourage non-car ways of making them:
Only the earlier phase-outs [of fossil-fuel-heavy vehicles] combined with lower demand for mobility and car ownership would make significant contributions to an emissions pathway that is both Paris-compliant [i.e. hits the targets set out at the international climate talks in Paris in 2015] and meets legislated urban air quality limits.
Engineering researchers come to similar conclusions via a different route. They reason that the best way to slash fuel use quickly – not in ten years’ time – is to cut the total weight of cars on the road.
Researchers at Cambridge published analysis showing that “fostering vehicle weight reduction” could save more emissions by 2050 than current policies that focus on electrification – unless there is “an extreme decarbonisation” of the UK’s electricity grid, e.g. more than 50%.
Simple. Obvious. But resisted tooth and nail by motor manufacturers.
Thanks in large part to those companies, the average weight of cars in Europe has risen from 1320 kg in 2005 – when they already knew fine well about global warming – to more than 1400 kg now.
Cars on average carry 1.8 people, who weigh on average about one-twelfth of that … “so almost all petrol is used to move the car, not the people”, says the Absolute Zero report, which proposes how the UK could go to zero carbon with current technologies.
The authors’ scenarios imply that the UK could get to a place where non-fossil electricity generation is three times the current level, and transport without fossil fuels uses 60% of the energy it uses now. And that would mean:
Either vehicles are modified – with regenerative braking, reduced drag and rolling resistance (better tyres), and weight reductions, or we can choose to use them less – through ride-sharing, better freight management or an overall reduction in distance travelled.
Simple. Obvious. And because the motor manufacturers won’t hear of it, the government keeps away from it.
Changing transport systems, so that we can live more happily with fewer vehicle-kilometres, is not just about cars, or even just the roads and parking spaces. It is also about the design and layout of the cities in which we live.
Current transport and land use planning practice is “fundamentally unsustainable” at a time of climate emergency, warned a reportlast month by the Royal Town Planning Institute (hardly a bunch of rebellious eco-warriors).
It called for urban planning to be turned upside down to avoid locking-in “car dependent lifestyles”.
The report proposed a four-step pathway. The fourth step is “fuel switching”, i.e. electrification of transport.
But before that, the report urged, (i) “all new development” has to be “planned, designed and delivered to achieve net zero transport emissions”; (ii) demand for transport should be reduced “through local living”, i.e. remaking cities so that necessities (schools, doctors, shops, and so on) are within walking distance; and (iii) government should encourage a shift from private vehicles to walking, cycling and public transport.
Simple. Obvious. But of no interest to the property developers who rule the roost in urban planning.
Researchers vs politicians
Since policy is influenced so profoundly by the relations of wealth and power in society – by the motor manufacturers and property developers, by car culture –researchers who seek to advise government sometimes wonder whether they are hitting their heads against a brick wall.
Three decades into the climate crisis, the transport sector is 98% dependent on fossil fuels, she reminded her colleagues.
“We need a profoundly more challenging mitigation agenda than the academic community has countenanced to date”, she argued. “We have to expose the gap between current measures and what needs to happen.” To “produce the knowledge we need to tell the truth”, research needs to go further, to “challenge the dominant frame held by policymakers” of “neoclassical engineering and microeconomic approaches”.
By implication at least, this call to go further was answered by Giulio Mattioli and his colleagues in an article published last year that highlighted five key elements of the “car-dependent transport system”: (i) the automotive industry; (ii) provision of car infrastructure; (iii) the political economy of urban sprawl; (iv) the provision (and, I would say, lack of provision) of public transport; and (v) cultures of car consumption.
This thorough analysis of the social and economic drivers obstructing decarbonisation concludes that:
Alternatives to car-dependent transport systems will have to be civic-minded, strategically coordinated for the public good […] Such alternatives can not benefit from a purported technocratic or apolitical presentation: instead, they should be argued for on the firm grounds of public coordination and delivery of public goods for all, while continually exposing the hidden workings of car-dependent transport systems.
This goes way beyond the framework of advising government that constrains so much work.
It underlines that the rift between research and politics – which has been so dramatically exposed in the last year with respect to the coronavirus – runs deep when it comes to climate change.
Where’s the opposition?
In the UK, this gulf between rational thinking and politics is deepened by the Labour party’s crisis. There is no functioning political opposition to the dysfunctional government.
Labour’s wimpish response to the government’s ten-point plan was just a symptom. Its own muddled climate policy is tied to discredited notions of pumping up “economic growth”. In fact the “green industrial revolution” slogan was coined by Labour and then stolen from it, and made infinitely more vacuous, by Boris Johnson and his corrupt cronies.
The gap between words and actions runs through Labour’s climate policies as it does the government’s. London mayor Sadiq Khan, arguably Labour’s most powerful elected politician, talks about tackling climate change – but his biggest spending decision has been to go ahead with the £2 billion Silvertown Tunnel project, which would help ensure there is more traffic in the coming decades, when it’s so vital that there is less.
The Labour-controlled Greater London Authority have simply ignored the reality that more roads produce more traffic, and defended the tunnel with the false argument – identical to the government’s – that electrification will make traffic “zero carbon”.
As campaigners in London (me included) have shown, the tunnel project is incompatible with London’s own emissions reductions targets, let alone those implied by the Paris climate conference.
How to turn the tide
So while politicians enthuse about electric cars, and motor manufacturers use them as greenwash, all the carbon emissions reductions from electric car use are being wiped out by the relentless rise in SUV use.
In 2020, a global reduction of oil use of about 2 million tonnes (40,000 barrels a day), achieved by people switching to electric cars, was “completely cancelled out by the growth in SUV sales over the same period”, research published last month by the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed.
While more than 3 million electric and hybrid vehicles were sold in 2020, SUV sales fell – but only to about 27 million, bringing the world’s total SUV fleet to more than 280 million, up from less than 50 million in 2010.
And the SUVs made a noticeable contribution to climate change. Energy-related greenhouse gas emissions fell by about 7% in 2020, across all the categories the IEA tracks … except those from SUVs, which edged up by 0.5%.
What’s more, the electric vehicles being sold are getting larger and heavier, on average, earlier IEA research showed.
Clearly, meaningful action to tackle climate change and make city life better means cutting the total number of cars on the road.
It means communities fighting for investment in cheap and free public transport and infrastructure for cycling, walking and genuinely energy-saving transport modes such as electric scooters. It means combating the influence of motor manufacturers and the car culture on which they thrive.
It means social and labour movements making common cause with workers in the motor industry, to seek ways to use their skills, without producing climate-wrecking gas guzzlers – as is starting to happen with aviation workers.
And it means recognising that electric cars – which, over the long term, can combine with fossil-free electricity generation as a means of transport – are not a short- or medium term fix for the climate emergency.
Note 1. Why EVs are not zero-emission
□ Calling electric vehicles (EVs) “zero emission” is meaningless propaganda. Greenhouse gases are emitted when the car and battery are manufactured, and very often from the power stations that produce the electricity. There are heated controversies about EVs’ lifecycle emissions, measured in grams per kilometre travelled (g/kw), compared to petrol and diesel cars. The bottom line of a recent study by Carbon Brief was that EVs in Europe are usually more than twice as carbon-efficient (i.e. twice as “clean”) as petrol and diesel cars, depending on the make and where the battery is produced. That analysis cast doubt on a headline-grabbing study by the IFO institute in Germany, which warned that EVs would “barely help to cut emissions”. Over time, EVs have the potential to improve carbon efficiency still further, compared to petrol cars, with better batteries and lower-carbon electricity.
□ Carbon Brief found that, in the EU, a Nissan Leaf used half the carbon emissions of an average petrol car on a lifecycle basis. Half is not “zero”.
□ Much depends on how the electricity is produced. In Paraguay or Iceland, where it comes from hydropower, the carbon “cost” of an EV is only that of making the car and battery. But in China or India, where most electricity is produced from coal and EV markets are growing rapidly, most EVs will do worse than comparable petrol cars in greenhouse gas terms. (This is one of many studies with numbers.)
□ Lifecycle assessments do not include emissions from building and maintaining roads and parking spaces, and the knock-on effect of discouraging non- and low-carbon forms of transport. (The numbers are complex. See Transport for Quality of Life’s work on the UK to get an idea.)
□ EV purchases do not necessarily mean that buyers are giving up petrol cars. Research from Norway, which has gone furthest in electrifying transport, shows that the availability of EVs has increased the proportion of families who own more than one car, and decreased the proportion that use public transport to commute.
□ Plug-in hybrid cars (PHEVs), often counted as “low emission”, are being given low emission values from tests, but their real-world emissions are on average two-and-a-half times higher, a briefing by Transport & Environment reports. In 2017 in the UK, researchers fumed, a quarter of all plug-in cars registered were “an SUV in the form of a PHEV and one of the most polluting cars on the road”.
□ Apart from the carbon cost, EVs use metals, in particular lithium, that are mined in the global south under conditions that heap suffering on the people that live there. The huge expansion of EV manufacture envisaged by car companies implies a disastrous assault on those people. Some of the implications were examined by Jamie Morgan, an economist, in this article.
Note 2: Policies lag behind carbon budgets, which lag behind reality
Transport is the UK economic sector that accounts for the most greenhouse gas emissions (in 2019, 113 MtCO2e, 22% of the total). A report commissioned by the Climate Change Committee (CCC), a public body, said in December last year that transport emissions would have to be cut by 70% by the mid 2030s, for the government to meet its own climate targets.
These targets are expressed as “carbon budgets” covering five-year periods. The CCC warns that the government is unlikely to meet them: in the jargon, it is “off track” for the fourth (2023-27) and fifth (2028-32) carbon budgets.
In a letter sent to the government in October 2018, the CCC chair, Lord Deben, specified just how far off track. In 2030, when the CCC wants transport emissions down to around 68 MtCO2e/year, it a projected a 14 MtCO2e/year shortfall due to a “policy gap”, and a further 42 MtCO2e/year “at risk due to lack of firm policies and measures or those with delivery risks”.
In plain language: if the government does not get a grip (and there’s no sign of that, more than two years later), transport emissions could be more or less unchanged by 2030.
All that sounds bad enough. Worse still, climate scientists insist that the “carbon budgets”, on which government and CCC agree, would not even deliver half the necessary emissions cuts.
A key research paper that takes the scientific conclusions of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, and applies the principle that rich countries should bear more of the burden (“common but differentiated responsibility”, in the jargon), gives the UK a carbon budget of 3700 MtCO2e for the whole 21st century – compared to the 9000 MtCO2e implied by the government’s targets.
The paper, by Kevin Anderson and others, assumes – unlike the government – that negative emissions technologies will play no substantial part in the next few decades. That means, the authors say, that the UK needs, starting now, to cut emissions by more than 10% per year – as opposed to the 5.1% implied by government targets.
The paper’s assumptions are very modest. That 3700 MtCO2e budget for the UK is based on an assumed global budget, for the 21st century, of 900 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e). A briefing paper by the ecological economist Tim Jackson, with a slightly different angle on the IPCC’s numbers, says the UK’s budget is 2500 MtCO2e, and the global budget 420 GtCO2e. It all depends on how much risk of going how far above 1.5 degrees higher than pre-industrial times you think makes sense.
In my view, caution is desirable with all these numbers, because discussion of them often implicitly assumes that politicians and diplomats at the climate negotiations have a right and duty to rule on these matters. I don’t think that, but I do think the science in the IPCC reports is a good place to start in working out our view on emissions cuts. But the government obviously does not.