How we travel for a low carbon future

The need to move people, goods, and services efficiently has always been tricky for those involved in planning and supporting sustainable transport, within the confines of a transit system that is designed primarily around road vehicles. Most personal journeys are made by passenger car and most goods are moved domestically by road (DfT, Transport Statistics Great Britain, 2018).

In the UK, transport has surpassed energy as the largest emitting sector of greenhouse gas emissions (BEIS, UK greenhouse gas emissions, 2018), with almost 30% of carbon emissions attributed to how we move things around, and with passenger cars accounting for more than half of these emissions. Between 70-80% of people across the country travel to work by passenger car, with most of these journeys not shared. The assessment also showed that people travel the most miles for commuting and leisure – both areas for which the UK coronavirus lockdown will be intensely affecting.

Whilst our attention has been set on the current coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) released its ambitious transport decarbonisation strategy in early Spring 2020, which indirectly highlights how we can come out of this crisis as a more sustainable society through rethinking our approach to travel alone. The aim of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP) is to make cities and towns nicer places to live, reduce air pollution, improve health, create green jobs, and tackle a major contributor to climate change. And as of early May 2020, the Government announced that an additional £2 billion in funding will support the most comprehensive ever rollout of support to boost cycling and walking networks, trials of e-scooters, and use of technology to stagger journeys and diversify travel routes. These plans will help people get around whilst maintaining social-distancing guidelines that are more difficult to maintain on public transport in a post-Covid-19 world.

The TDP report highlights existing commitments and progress and offers a look at how far we still have to go to achieve net-zero by 2050. The following takeaways include key points that will have relevance to many of our member businesses and their employees. The strategy and forthcoming plan will:

  • Aim to increase demand for public transport and support active travel as a first choice for more people through better access, more convenience, and more cost effective options – even including looking at how we might use cars differently (pool cars and shared vehicle ownership, perhaps?)
  • Decarbonise road vehicles through a combination of regulation, refuelling and recharging infrastructure with budget for rapid charging points and grants for installation to be made available
  • Target place-based solutions that tackle air quality locally to protect the vulnerable
  • Scrutinise supply chains to support opportunities for improved digitisation, collaboration, and a more integrated and sustainable delivery system for goods
  • The Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (Low CVP) will be further developed to help improve its relevance for SMEs to meet their reduction targets through their Freight Portal (
  • BEIS will develop a standard methodology to compare how much carbon dioxide is emitted through specific modes of transport over a certain distance, and as such this will help you take actions to meet your own carbon and transport targets


The strategy’s trajectory is based on committed expenditure and existing regulation in place, and this still fails by far to meet the 2050 GHG emission targets set by the Committee for Climate Change. In addition, much of it will depend on how quickly consumers adopt the new technologies and whether people will change their travel behaviours for good, post COVID-19 crisis lockdown, and the challenges around safe travel on public transport going forward.

The final plan was set to be published in time for the autumn COP26 conference, which – due to the pandemic – has now been postponed. We will be watching this space with interest as the Department for Transport releases its Science Plan, or its technology ‘roadmap’, this Spring to show how they will engage with business and industry to meet these challenges.

Want to know what you can do?

Looking inward: We have developed a new travel plan guidance for businesses to use to assess the levers for change within their own organisations and how to drive more sustainable transport and its co-benefits for cost saving, time saving, and staff wellbeing – plus the huge boon to business carbon emission targets. This resource is available currently for iiE members, and we are happy to discuss how we can support any organisation on improving their transport planning and strategy.

The full plan is now available: Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge  You can share your views with the DfT by emailing [email protected]