Decarbonising Transport – The Race to Net Zero

COP26 & Transport Decarbonisation

For nearly 30 years, the United Nations (UN) have been bringing together countries from around the world for global climate summits, called Conference of the Parties (COP). Over the years, climate change has gone from being a fringe issue to being an issue of urgency and this year will see the 26th annual summit being held, giving it the name ‘COP26’.


This year’s conference sees the UK as President in partnership with Italy and will be held in Glasgow between 1st November – 12th November 2021.


The event will bring together over 190 world leaders and tens of thousands of negotiators, government representatives, businesses, and citizens from around the world to raise awareness about climate change and kick start plans towards Net Zero with conferences, exhibitions, workshops, technology demonstrations and more.


Responding to Net Zero plans, the UK government recently announced their Transport Decarbonisation Plan, which discusses new policies to transform England’s transport sector, reduce carbon emissions and align with meeting net zero targets by 2050. The plan, which outlines how the government aim to decarbonise the UK’s biggest polluter, covers all major areas of transport, including cars, walking, cycling, public transport, aviation, rail, freight, HGVs, and buses.


Working towards a fundamental change in how we travel, transport decarbonisation encompasses a number of different policies. These include an investment of £2 billion for walking and cycling in England, electrification of public transport networks, increased support for active travel, phasing out of non-zero emission HGV’s, a requirement for vehicle manufacturers to improve the efficiency of road vehicles, and much more.


The decarbonisation plans are set to be the main discussion point for this years’ COP26 to accelerate the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change.


Transport Emissions on Health and the Environment


The need to clean up our air is also highlighted in the government plans. Although CO2 is found naturally in our atmosphere, humans are contributing to excess levels of CO2 and accelerating climate change. Petrol and diesel vehicles burn fossil fuels to power engines, allowing us to easily get from one place to another. Although convenient and a large part of our lifestyles, transport has been found to be the largest contributor to air pollution in the UK - road transport alone accounted for almost a quarter of emissions in 2019. In addition, Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV’s) were found to be the second largest source of domestic transport carbon emissions. Alongside carbon emissions, road transport creates a number of other pollutants including nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) which contaminate the air that we breathe and affect our health.

The subsequent pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels from cars, lorries, motorcycles, and other vehicles also causes significant damage to public health. Exposure to pollution in ambient air has been linked to a range of health problems. Exposure to CO2 causes headaches, nausea, and increased heart rate and in extreme cases can lead to oxygen deprivation. Inhalation of NO2 and PM2.5 causes and exacerbates respiratory and cardiovascular problems, such as asthma, COPD, and lung disease and has even been linked to low birth rates and dementia.


An increase in air pollution around the world also contributes to a rise in temperatures, posing extreme risks to the ever-worsening climate and damage to livelihoods around the world. This is why it’s absolutely vital that action against transport emissions and air pollution is taken sooner rather than later.


What Does This Mean for Businesses?


We will begin to see changes in how we travel and businesses will be obliged to support this by finding and implementing appropriate changes to align with the new legally binding policies.


Funding is becoming available to link local infrastructure to emission reducing solutions to help the likes of traffic management companies, logistics companies and vehicle and technology manufacturers understand the behaviour and impact of their practises on pollution.


Cleaner modes of transport need to be introduced, such as electric cars and buses. To support this change, road networks and infrastructure will need to be optimised to allow for smarter, cleaner and healthier cities.


We’ve already seen some businesses make changes as part of the new goals. Royal Mail have made their commitment to make all their company cars electric by 2030. By 2030, the sale of new diesel and petrol will cease, and only electric cars will be available for order. Uber have also implemented a ‘Clean Air Fee’ which charges 3p per mile for journeys taken in London, allowing them to collect funding for introducing electric taxis in London by 2025.


How will Air Quality Monitoring Services Help?


Monitoring solutions provide insight into current levels of pollution as well as evidence the effectiveness of pollution lowering strategies. Companies conducting traffic surveys can integrate air quality monitoring to understand the relationship between vehicle numbers, types, and pollution concentrations to identify trends. Local authorities on the other hand can implement air quality monitoring around whole cities to monitor the success of Clean Air Zones (CAZ), Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN) and timed road closures to help reduce gaseous and particulate emissions including CO2.


Using real-time pollution monitors such as the Zephyr® we can measure, visualise, and start to understand the sources and effects of transport pollution at localised levels. Advanced modelling such as with our global MappAir® data can be integrated into existing traffic and transport systems to create pollution maps for whole cities to make informed and timely decisions to minimise congestion and pollution.


Due to new walking and cycling investment opportunities, transport and planning companies may need to introduce infrastructure which empowers members of the public to travel by foot or bike and ensure it reduces the impact of petrol and diesel emissions. We saw something similar with our partners at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) who used Zephyr® monitors to evidence the need and effectiveness of new cycle lanes in Berlin as a cleaner method of travel.


What Next and Where to Start?


Making these changes can seem a daunting task, especially as we’re so used to the way we travel and it plays such a large part in our lifestyles. For betterment of the planet and human health, we need to start acting against excess pollution and slow down climate change.


In order to start working out what your next steps should be, you can visit the COP26 website to find out what is to be expected and what’s likely to change following the summit. You could also sign up for their newsletter to stay up to date with each days plans and recent highlights.


Once you’ve established what to expect, you can get in touch with us if you’re in need of some guidance about how we can help you work towards net zero plans. We also have a range of case studies available to download to demonstrate how other authorities and businesses are using our services for reducing emissions and improving the climate. Once you’ve spoken to our experts, you will be able to start using your air quality monitoring and/or modelling and start working towards informed strategies for decarbonising!


Sign up for a Lunch & Learn Session


We’re hosting a series of Lunch & Learn sessions aimed to inform you about the negative effects of air pollution and how our monitoring, modelling and SaaS solutions can help you and your team work towards achieving Net Zero goals.


Learn more about the sessions and how to sign your team up here. We’ll even provide the lunch for in-person events!

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