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Climate gap report: transport

Rob Harrison and Ruth Strange discuss the findings around transport from Closing the Climate Gap 2023: An annual report on progress towards sustainable consumer lifestyles in the UK.

Actions taken this decade will be crucial in mitigating the worst impacts of climate breakdown. Yet, according to our Climate Gap research, we are not cutting emissions fast enough across any of our key lifestyle areas - including our transport.

Transport and climate change

The larger reductions in travel we saw in 2020 due to Covid are now being reversed. Even though flights and car emissions in 2022 were not back to pre-pandemic levels, they are climbing.

The only transport indicator on track is electric car sales. Reducing car demand is crucial alongside switching to electric cars, because they have problems of their own due to the materials and energy needed. More support is needed for walking, cycling, and public transport. The target for aviation emissions in particular could be much more ambitious, especially as in the UK, only 15% of people take 70% of all flights.

Graph with aviation emissions in million tonnes CO2e by year: 2019 = 39; 2020 = 16; 2021 = 15; 2022 = 29; 2030 target 33.

Going in the wrong direction

Travel accounts for around 25% of our total consumer emissions.

The 2023 report found that there is still a 32% reduction needed in CO2e emissions needed if we are to meet the CCC's 2030 targets.

As can be seen in the graph for aviation emissions, some targets are currently a very long way off, and/or, our actions are going in the wrong direction.

We call on consumers to not only reduce their own emissions in these areas, but to also consider getting engaged with political campaigns trying to persuade the government and companies to take some of the actions identified too.

Actions for government, companies and consumers

The report card below summarises the key actions consumers, governments and businesses need to take in order to help meet the CCC's 2030 targets.

Transport report card 2023
  Annual emissions from cars Annual emissions from aviation

Electric car registrations

Actions for government Decarbonise electricity supply; sense check road building; support walking, cycling and public transport. Halt airport expansion; frequent-flyer levy; encourage efficiency gains; aviation tax reform. EV purchase subsidies; support rapid rollout of charging infrastructure; mandatory zero-emission sales targets.
Actions for companies Sell more electric vehicles; continue innovating on decarbonising HGVs; reduce distance travelled. Replace business travel; increase plane efficiency; develop sustainable aviation fuel. Switch to electric cars and vans; invest in charging infrastructure.
Actions for consumers

Reduce distance travelled and switch to lower carbon travel where possible.

Reduce flying if possible.

If you need a car replace it with a fully electric vehicle as soon as possible.

Access the 2023 report

A summary and PDF of the 2023 report and the other impact areas is available on our campaign page.

The reports include the evidence behind all the information.

At a glance graphs

The 2023 report includes 12 graphs, like the aviation emissions graph above, across the four impact areas of food, heating, transport and consumer goods. These graphs are quick ways to see where progress is taking place, and where the target is going to be very difficult to achieve.

Your feedback

After you have read this report, we’d really appreciate it if you could complete a short survey to help us understand the impact it is having, and improve this in future years.

Handy advice on climate actions you can take

We are creating a series of articles highlighting actions you can take for the climate on the areas of food, heating, transport and consumer goods - see the links below for transport related advice:

Join in

Combined efforts can have greater impact than people on their own. Key transport campaigns to support include:

We would like to express gratitude to Ecology Building Society for its sponsorship of the 2023 Climate Gap Report.

Ecology Building Society logo

What is the Climate Gap report?

Ethical Consumer's first Climate Gap report was published in October 2021, to track progress towards sustainable consumer lifestyles in the UK. The report helps identify how consumers, governments and companies can work together to help fix the climate crisis.

The report's aim is to track the gap between our current combined consumption emissions and where they need to be by 2030. A second key aim of the project is to produce a simplified list of key actions for consumers, companies and governments.

The report has four sections on the areas where our lifestyle climate impacts are the biggest: food, housing, transport and consumer goods, covering 75% of combined total consumer emissions. It compares where consumer behaviour is in these areas against 2030 targets from reports issued by the UK Government's own Climate Change Committee (CCC). Read more about whether the CCC's targets themselves are robust enough, in the Key Findings on our campaign page.

We update the report annually, to provide science-based targets for consumers, companies and government each year.