Travel accounts for around 25% of our total consumer emissions. Yet, in 2021, the Climate Gap report found that emissions from travel are not being cut fast enough.
If we are to reverse this trend, the report highlights three key actions that all consumers must take.
- Choose electric vehicles
- Reduce air travel where possible
- Reduce road travel where possible
In this page, we explore these actions: why they are necessary, how far we are from them, and the changes that businesses and governments can make to ensure we achieve these goals. We call on consumers to not only reduce their own emissions in the areas we have identified, but to also consider getting engaged with political campaigns trying to persuade the government and companies to take some of the actions identified too.
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.
Called 'Closing the Climate Gap', 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 the Climate Change Committee's targets on our campaign page.
Transport and climate change
The table below summarises what we think are the three most important opportunities for decarbonisation in the transport impact area: driving less, flying less and choosing fully electric vehicles.
It also shows with the three orange squares that these changes didn't occur fast enough in the last year to meet our goals. We took the decision not to include pandemic-induced aviation reductions in these figures, as they are likely to give a false impression of longer-term trends.
Transport, including goods transport, accounts for about a quarter of our emissions. Of this, the breakdown is about:
- 40% is cars,
- 24% flights,
- 12% vans,
- 11% HGVs,
- 9% shipping
- 4% trains and buses.
Decarbonising transport involves a mixture of reducing travel, switching modes (e.g. from planes to trains), improving vehicle efficiency, and switching fuel. Most vehicles can be electrified, but for those that are too heavy or go too far or too fast, there is hydrogen, biomass or synthetic fuels.
The CCC's Balanced Scenario (used throughout our report) includes:
- Battery-electric vehicles replace all sales of conventional cars, vans, motorbikes and plug-in hybrids by 2032.
- Some efficiency gains – e.g. the fuel efficiency of aviation improves at 1.4% per annum, compared to 0.7% in the baseline.
Behaviour change is modest. In the CCC's figures there is no absolute reduction in car or aviation travel, although growth is slower than that anticipated by the Department for Transport. In none of its scenarios is there a huge reduction.
The CCC’s justification for not modelling a larger reduction in aviation is partly that the UK Climate Assembly, a citizens group chosen to be representative of the population, was reluctant to reduce aviation significantly.
While surface transport and shipping emissions fall towards zero by 2050, the CCC’s scenarios leave significant ongoing carbon emissions from aviation. There is a 40% reduction on 2018 levels in the Balanced Scenario. The rest has to be cancelled with land-based net negative technologies.
Actions required by consumers
- Replace your car with an electric as soon as it makes practical sense to do so.
- Any travel reduction you can do will help.
Actions required by government
The CCC advises:
- Sales of new fossil fuel cars, vans and motorbikes should be banned by 2032.
- There needs to be a rapid rollout of charging infrastructure.
- The electricity network and smart charging systems must be upgraded to deal with the electric load.
Actions required by businesses
The CCC advises:
- Continued work on improving efficiency.
- It is too early to tell which zero-carbon HGV technologies will emerge as marketleaders – manufacturers must continue developing electric and hydrogen fuel cell HGVs.