A new report by the Institute for Public Policy Research argues that breaking the link between road transport and oil is not only possible, it would benefit the economy, create jobs and reduce carbon emissions.
The report, commissioned by Greenpeace, argues that ending the UK’s dependence on oil is critical if we want to cut carbon emissions, improve energy security and increase the chances of future economic stability. With transport responsible for around 75 per cent of oil consumption, breaking the link between transport and oil offers huge opportunities for the UK. A large-scale shift to a low carbon transport system could create jobs and attract investment. Economic prosperity would be less vulnerable to volatile oil prices and the UK would be in a better position to deliver on its commitment to substantially reduce carbon emissions.
The IPPR report, Untying the Knot: Decoupling oil and transport, identifies three key challenges the UK transport system faces over the coming years.
If the UK government is to tackle climate change, support a stable economy and improve access to transport, it must:
- improve vehicle efficiency and support UK manufacturing
- distribute the benefits of a more efficient transport system fairly throughout society
- find ways to fund transport in an era of reduced oil consumption.
To improve efficiency the government has to support and advocate within the EU ambitious targets for vehicle efficiency, specifically 95gm/km for car fleets by 2020. The IPPR report shows that the technology is there to easily meet this target.
Not only that but having the target taken up by the EU would play to the advantages of UK manufacturing, specialising in engine building (30 per cent of Europe’s car engines are built in the UK) and battery technology. An industrial strategy designed to support the target could put the UK at the forefront of what is likely to be one of the key technological developments of the coming century.
More efficient cars use less fuel, meaning those who can afford to upgrade will save money in the long run. However, those on low incomes who would benefit most from the reduced costs cannot afford these cars. Whilst being clear that supporting walking, cycling and public transport is the most effective means of combating transport poverty, the report also outlines policy which could spread the advantages of these new cars.
Finally, IPPR explored the relationship between oil production, fuel duty and motoring costs. With production falling in the North Sea, imports are on the increase which basically means exporting income and jobs. In addition to improved efficiency, tax receipts from fuel duty are likely to fall significantly, raising questions about how to compensate for this decline in government revenue in the coming years. This gives us a chance to create a way of charging for transport that encourages efficiency and is less regressive.
It is clear that if the motoring lobby is resisted then an integrated policy on transport and car efficiency would have multiple benefits for the UK. Change is coming whether the UK government acts or not. These changes could be of huge benefit to industry and transport users, however if politicians fail to rise to the challenge the UK will be left trailing other more dynamic nations.