The Climate Change Act and Transport – 4 Years On

The Climate Change Act (2008) celebrates its fourth birthday today. The Act  sets a world-leading target for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 80% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. Four years on I reflect on what this has meant to the transport sector drawing on an on-going research project ( Much more detailed analysis is available through the Committee on Climate Change website.

Transport is described as the sector that is most difficult to tackle, being so dependent on fossil fuel as its primary input. The evidence at least bears the lack of apparent progress out, with only a 1.7% reduction in emissions since 1990 despite quite significant improvements to vehicle fuel efficiency. These have, until recently been offset by traffic growth and by upsizing of the vehicle fleet. But has the Act galvanized new sorts of action and thinking in the transport sector?

To answer this we need to look at what the Act actually means. When it was first introduced, the then Labour government set about establishing departmental budgets as well as a series of interim overall carbon reduction targets. The Conservative-Liberal  coalition has dropped sectoral targets and instead gone for a ‘Carbon Plan’ which provides indicative assessments of the impacts of a series of proposed policy tools. Of course, when set badly, targets have the potential to corrupt policy making, forcing actions to chase the end goal whatever the cost. That is not good policy. However, targets also provide a strategic focus which draw organizations together to meet common goals. Does it matter that the Department for Transport does not have a target for CO2 reduction?

This question has been explored through interviews with 59 governmental and non-governmental stakeholders in four city regions in England and Scotland joint with colleagues at the Universities of Sheffield, Glasgow and Lund. There seems to be little coherent or comprehensive action towards carbon reduction at a local level and, whilst the 80% by 2050 target is clearly known, there is a lack of clarity about what is expected locally. Even where local carbon targets are set they are deemed to be more a statement of hope than true intent.

Have local authorities failed then in their mission to support carbon reduction? This is complex. In part, they are muddling through on the back of limited evidence and significant uncertainty. For example, if there are major technological breakthroughs in decarbonising the car fleet then their role in reducing vehicle miles is diminished. No-one knows what will happen or how fast. Nonetheless, it seems that the imperative of economic growth has demoted discussion of travel demand reduction policies relative to that of promoting travel demand growth, albeit with some emphasis on public transport.

Our research found little difference in the ambition or effectiveness of carbon reduction policies across the different case study areas or countries. Although the Climate Change Act promises legally binding targets, it seems that it has done little to really stimulate a step change in thinking in the transport sector. Carbon certainly is not yet acting as a constraint in any meaningful way and it appears to have lost traction as an agenda since the downturn.

We will be meeting regional and national stakeholders in the coming months to develop policy recommendations and we would be happy to hear from any interested parties. Events will be held in:

  • Leeds (29th November)
  • Manchester (28th February)
  • London (5th March)
  • Glasgow or Edinburgh (9th April)

If you want to find out more or get involved please contact me


Flood Survey Reflections

A team of researchers spent the weekend out interviewing people in Cawood, Naburn, Acaster Malbis and York talking to households and businesses affected by the flood. Fortunately the number of houses affected in the areas I visited were small compared with 2000 in part due to the slightly lower water levels and in part due to small improvements to the flood defences which, for example, kept one road out of Naburn open. Driving and walking around now, it is hard to believe that there was a flood, with the exception that Cawood bridge remains closed and riverside fields and caravan parks remain under water.

It is early days to be able to generalise about what the interviews found. However, the ones I did showed how varied the responses might be. For those who have jobs where work can be done flexibly from home there was little direct impact. That is, unless one also had children who were due to attend the school which was closed. This led to a series of traded favours amongst the community in the case that both parents worked. Arrangements were in some instances quite fragile. Interestingly no-one I spoke with described there as being anything other than an immediate loss, with work being flexible and understanding and workload simply being “caught up” over the coming week or two.

Food shopping patterns changed, particularly as home deliveries were unable to be delivered. Most people actually had enough in their fridges and cupboards to be able to get through with a little top up shop at a nearby garage or en-route home. Some of the longer-term residents had stocks of food in the freezer for just such an eventuality. It was surprising to a degree just how ‘normal’ this event was. For someone new to the area there was a sense of calm as the rising waters followed a pattern which others knew and understood.

We’ll find out more about business impacts over the coming weeks. I met with a farmer who had to make significant adaptations to their livestock housing and who lost a lot of arable crops at various stages of planting. It will take 2 to 3 years to get back in cycle there. A local caravan park was significantly affected but still had spaces on one high area. However, the lack of local bus service meant that those with motor homes that usually accessed York by bus left the site.

This will be my last blog post on the flood – we are moving now into a phase of data analysis and then feedback – both to the local authorities and parish councils and to the Disruption project

Football pitches at Tadcaster

Floods stretch on – what are people doing to cope?

Friday afternoon. I’m lucky in that my kids are being looked after by friends in the village – all arranged during the various handovers that happened yesterday. I am in debt again so had better plan not to be working on the next school inset day!

Some reflections from people I’ve seen. Long diversions in place for cyclists and cars but its a nightmare getting into York with the A19 shuty and parts of the inner ring road. A neighbour suggested it would be faster to walk to York (we are 5 miles out). I reckon they are right. My daughter said last night and today. Can we keep it like this, its good fun, I’ve kind of got used to it. Perhaps its the fun of making it round the village in a dinghy or maybe not being at school. However, there is a sense in which this has all become quite normal – we are only using one car and need to share it. It takes a bit longer to get places and we’re probably doing a bit less than we were. Well that wouldn’t be so bad given how much we are overdoing it anyway.

I should add life would be a whole lot less complex if my wife wasn’t away for the weekend and I wasn’t trying to organise surveys to find out more about how everyone else is coping.

Been Affected by the Flood Like Me? – Take Part in Research

Many residents of York and North Yorkshire will have had and still be having travel plans upset by the current high water levels. I am leading a research project which tries to understand what happens to people when they are faced with Disruptive events of a whole range of different types (more details at We would like to have short interviews with anyone who has been affected by the flood in any way – cancelled activities,missed work, school closure, long journeys and just more generally to understand how you coped.

To take part please contact Jeremy Shires

W: 0113 3435347

M: 07957 333 817

We hope to be surveying over the weekend and are happy to provide more details. In the meantime, hope you enjoy the photo below – and if anyone knows who is looking after my kids tomorrow that’d be good to know too!!!

The only way to travel!!!

Flood update

Got up at 6:50 today to come in to work for my meeting this morning. Had to wade very slowly up the road – not quite the 8:00am peak when it is high tide. Looks like most of the houses will be OK but the roads are impassable within the village.

Met the School Head on her way to check out the school at 7:30. First contacts are to the radio and local news channels then back home to post on the VLE – no way you can get kids to the school. Looks like it has a moat.

Cancelled the cleaner (very middle class) – will wait to see what unfolds at home with school shut. I am off tomorrow afternoon anyway as my wife is away so will probably fall to her today – may be some reciprocity amongst parents.



Reflections on the York Flood

I live in Naburn on the outskirts of York. Naburn is on the banks of the Ouse and floods to varying degrees during periods of intense rainfall. The village was cut off for 10 days during the floods of 2000 and Prince Charles famously came and had a half pint in the Blacksmiths Arms. There’s a job!

I set off for work after the school drop off this morning but quickly turned back and had to leave the village by the route which now “doesn’t flood” since some additional works were done post 2000. My wife was heading to town so I phoned through and she went the ling-way round to the Park and Ride. All pretty much as normal. She was delayed in town and ending up taking an hour to get back as the bus was diverted (flood closed A19 in Fulford in between Naburn and York centre). She made it back in time to fill in for some mums at the school gate who hadn’t got back in time and we ended up with an extra guest from our daughters class for the night as their parents were stuck. I left my car up the road so I can get out tomorrow AM (I’m not alone). My wife cancelled her swim class – set off but had gone out in her wellies and no driving shoes!

We haven’t made many other plans for what happens next – flood waters due to peak at 8am as this part of the river is also tidal. There is a good chance school will be shut but that hasn’t been declared yet. I’ve got a fixed meeting I’d really rather not cancel tomorrow morning so this could fall to my wife. We’ve both had time off (or rather displaced work into evenings or later in the month/year) when our youngest was poorly. That’ll be a real pain – although the kids were speculating and “well happy” with the prospect.

Fingers crossed it doesn’t make it over the sandbags and into the properties closest to the river. There are other places further up such as Cawood where the bridge is shut so small scale disruption at least isquite widespread. There are lots of transport closures and route diversions.

Flooding in York