The author is a Senior Visiting Research Associate at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford and formerly at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. For short topical comments, go to HOME AND BLOG page. Click BLOG below the photo for recent blogs, or click a subject for blogs by topic or archived items . The navigation bar links to longer individual commentaries, eg SCIENCE VS SCEPTICS, or site navigation. To make comments on a post, click on "comments" at end of that post.
Should we be doing
more to limit our trade with China, if we are
serious about having a global effect on emissions rather than concentrating on
purely domestic issues?
[Third in a series originating in a set of questions put by sixth form students. I should also thank Environmental Change Institute colleagues. Their ideas have inspired a number of my comments.]
and climate connections are many, so a full answer has several dimensions. They
relate to the amount of CO2 emissions embedded in the manufactured goods we
process, to comparison of manufacturing methods and energy policies in
different countries, to fuel use in shipping, to the international norms that
govern trade, and potentially to the enforcement, if any, of international
current international system of accounting for greenhouse gas emissions, they
are generally attributed to the country where they enter the atmosphere,
regardless of where any final products go.
This limits our understanding of the full impacts of our own national consumption. One
illustration is the apparently very substantial reduction in UK emissions since
1990. Closer examination reveals this was due, not just to the coal to gas
transition or the growth in renewable energy, but in large measure to the
de-industrialisation of the UK in the 1980s and 1990s under the Thatcher
government. In other words since 1990 the UK has exported much of its
manufacturing industry and the CO2 emissions that went with it. The
reduction in our carbon footprint is less than we occasionally pretend.
it is sensible to look beyond the patterns of energy use within the UK, as well
as beyond our own personal choices within the home and in personal travel. There
will be an embedded carbon footprint in all the goods and services we purchase.
If we all reduced our consumption of manufactured goods, but especially those
that have a high carbon content, then that would certainly be an important
impact. It is not always easy to tell which are the worst industries in causing
emissions, but one recent report by the World Bank has claimed that the fashion
industry is responsible for 10% of global emissions, more than aviation and
almost impossible for individual consumers to make meaningful calculations of
the carbon footprint of different products, but we can collectively make
sensible choices through trade policy. It will be important to trade with
countries that have strong environmental policies and are willing to take
action on reducing emissions, and setting meaningful targets, like the European
Union. Goods produced in those countries will, over time, tend to have a significantly
lower carbon footprint than others, especially as their emissions reduction
policies start to bear fruit.
policies are now starting to impact on, and create tensions for, trade policy.
As the EU seeks to avoid simply exporting its own manufacturing to countries with less commitment to reducing emissions,
it is proposing measures that will ultimately amount to a carbon adjustment tax
at the border, for countries that are not part of the EU’s own ambitious
emissions reduction programme. We should expect to see this, and its
reconciliation with WTO rules on trade, as a major source of controversy over
the next few years.
imports from China?
most of the UK’s international imports (and their embodied carbon) are not from
China. China accounts for only about 7% of UK
imports, about the same as France but with a higher proportion of manufactures,
and significantly less than the USA and Germany at about 11% each. A further
complication is that the carbon footprint of your purchase will depend on how
what you are buying is manufactured in China, and whether the process there
results in more or less carbon emissions than it would if you were buying a
similar product from somewhere else.
we should be careful not to overstate the negative impact of China on our carbon footprint. China currently has a very high share of the world's manufacturing and the emissions that go alongside; and they
also have what is almost certainly an excessive amount of coal-fired capacity,
much of which is under-utilised and may eventually be retired early. On the
other hand they have also been
very active in developing and promoting low carbon technologies, including
wind, solar and nuclear. And they are themselves very vulnerable to climate
change so they have some strong incentives to improve.
Shanghai, 2011. Coal barges on the Yangtse.
China has other emissions problems, particularly with city air
pollution. The Chinese city of Shenzhen,
with a population similar to London, has 17,000 electric buses (in part to
improve air quality), whereas London has 200.
In terms of emissions generated per head of population, China ranks well
below Saudi Arabia, Australia, the United States and many other countries,
although surprisingly it is above France.
Does distance matter?
Surprisingly, and although shipping is a significant contributor to
global emissions, the carbon footprint of the freight involved in trade will be
a small part of the total and will usually be less important than the footprint
involved in manufacture. Other things being equal it makes sense to trade with
your neighbours, but other than for obvious bulk items or sometimes for lower
value perishable items where air freight is involved, the distance to market
will not usually be a critical factor.
Benito Mueller gives an interesting example. “According to DfID, … the emissions
produced by growing flowers in Kenya and flying them to the UK can be less than
a fifth of those grown in heated and lighted greenhouses in Holland.”
But emissions from freight and food miles are topics for another day.
And the lessons from this analysis?
The carbon footprint of the manufactured goods we buy does matter.
“Fast fashion” accounts for a surprisingly high proportion of global
We cannot avoid the connections between climate-related issues and trade
China accounts for quite a small proportion of our total imports.
Distance will usually be less important than the carbon content of the
means of production in different countries. Food miles will not always be a
good indicator of environmental credentials..
have not so far found an authoritative estimate of the contribution of motor
manufacturing, but its contribution appears to be less than 10%, although it is
clearly one of the larger contributors.
“Use your voice, use your vote, use your
choice.” (Al Gore)
first point to make is that any early action on reducing CO2
emissions should be considered as having a high per unit premium value for the
emissions saved. Early reduction is more
valuable than future savings in terms of postponing key climate milestones.
This delay provides more time to develop options both in finding better
means to reduce emissions, and in coping with the consequences of climate
change as it develops. Individual
actions have the particular advantage that they can have some effect quickly
and immediately, whereas government policies and international agreements tend
to take much longer to come into effect.
difficult question is what kinds of changes people will make, including changes
in lifestyles, are plausible, how large they are, and how many people are going
to engage with them. This is in large measure a question about how significant
changes come about, both in the very general terms of culture and lifestyle,
and in social and behavioural norms.
A few years ago a BBC reporter was persuaded to try the experiment of becoming Ethical Man, to determine what savings
he, with his family, could make, but these were to be within the bounds of
credible change and broadly keeping to his familiar lifestyle. He almost
certainly went further than most people will be prepared to (giving up his car
for example), but it was estimated that they had cut their carbon footprint by
about 20%, and up to 50% in terms of directly controlled energy use for normal
household purposes and travel. So it is fairly easy to show that some
significant reductions are possible without fundamental and systemic change.
But will sufficient numbers of people be persuaded?
say we should drive less, fly less, eat less meat. But others argue that
personal actions like this are a pointless drop in the ocean when set against
the huge systemic changes that are required … a single person’s contribution is
basically irrelevant (much like a single vote in an election). But my research
… has found that doing something bold like giving up flying can have a wider
knock-on effect by influencing others and shifting what’s viewed as “normal”.[Steve
Westlake in The Conversation.] 
critical. If one individual starts
cycling to work, or eating less meat, or taking a shower instead of a bath, then
the impact is minimal. But social interactions with friends, relatives and
colleagues can over time change behaviour much more widely. The Westlake article
suggests the effects can be dramatic.
In a survey I conducted, half
of the respondents who knew someone who has given up flying because of climate
change said they fly less because of this example. That alone seemed pretty
impressive to me. Furthermore, around three quarters said it had changed their
attitudes towards flying and climate change in some way. These effects were
increased if a high-profile person had given up flying, such as an academic or
someone in the public eye. In this case, around two thirds said they fly less
because of this person, and only 7% said it has not affected their attitudes.
I wondered if these
impressionable people were already behaving like squeaky-clean
environmentalists, but the figures suggested not. The survey respondents fly
considerably more than average, meaning they have plenty of potential to fly
less because of someone else’s example.
Some social psychology
research suggests that strongly held positions held by sufficiently large
minorities can lead quite quickly to a change in what is seen as the consensus
position or as normal behaviour. It is quite possible that we are currently in
the process of reaching that critical mass in popular appreciation of the
threats of climate change. Scientists have been warning about climate change in
no uncertain terms for at least the last 30 years, but the shift to a position
where a majority in developed countries see it as the greatest threat to
themselves and their children has been comparatively recent. However it is
difficult to say how much of that shift is attributable to dramatic climate or
weather related events (such as the Australian bush fires), how much to
awareness promoted by wildlife programmes (David Attenborough) and the media
attention attracted by activists such as Greta Thunberg, and how much to the
gradually increasing willingness of people to talk about the subject with their
If people are seeking to
influence others then avoiding the charge of hypocrisy is important. Very few
things are less impressive than some celebrity taking a private jet to a
conference to argue for everyone else to change their lifestyles. So that
provides another strand to the case for individual action, at least if you want
to have an influence on others.
Overall it is clear that
individual actions can make a difference. But of course they are by no means
sufficient to meet what is needed. That will only come about through much more
far reaching and systemic changes which depend not just on personal initiatives
but on major infrastructure investment and innovation. The other effective
actions that individuals can take is to “use their vote”, demand that their
elected representatives support effective action, and use their influence as
consumers to put similar pressure on business – much of which is already
starting to get the message.
What is the single
biggest thing an individual can do to reduce their carbon footprint?
An ECI colleague was
recently asked to give a short overview of renewable energy and
climate change issues to school sixth form students.
They presented in advance a dozen quite interesting and difficult questions, to
which a number of colleagues contributed suggested answers. It was a smart set of
questions and the answers may be of interest to a lot of adults too. So in my
next few postings I intend to summarise some of our collective wisdom. This is
the first of those questions.
The English writer
Sydney Smith: “It is the greatest of all
mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little. Do something.”
Al Gore: “Use your voice, use your vote, use your
The above quotes raise
some profound questions to which I hope to return, but let’s start with the
simple question of personal carbon footprint. The answer may be very different
for different people, as no two people start from the same position, have the
same tastes or have the same opportunities. For example if you are a
vegetarian, cutting down on meat is no longer an opportunity for you to make
further reductions. And if you always go on local cycling holidays, there is no
point suggesting you cut down on your flights. Similarly your daily transport
choices will depend on where you live. So the right answer is to work out what
is best for you, consider the biggest impacts of your own lifestyle, and
prioritise what things you want to change. The most significant personal reductions
are likely to come from food, travel choices, home energy use (especially
heating); and consumer products, so I'm going to make several different suggestions.
None of these incidentally are intended to make your life a misery or imply return
to some pre-industrial fantasy world. Nor do most of them require expensive investments. But they are intended to be about a more
clever use of resources.
Eating less meat is
potentially one of the biggest ways to reduce our carbon footprint. The
calculations suggest that beef has a higher footprint than pork, which is
higher than chicken. Of course reducing food waste and excessive packaging is
If you are already
vegetarian and fly a lot for holidays, then fewer long-haul flights will mean a
pretty large reduction in your carbon footprint. Driving, especially when with
passengers, is a lot better than flying, if you have the time and inclination. Taking
the train is better still. If you are using a petrol or diesel car, we can note
that the biggest sources of excess fuel use are generally taken to be speed and
If we turn to other
everyday activities then there a lot of small savings that people can make. But
it’s worth bearing in mind that one of the biggest consumptions of energy in
the home is for heating. Turning your domestic heating down by one degree C, if
you can do so without discomfort, has been estimated to reduce consumption
by up to 10%. Not heating the house when you are not at home will help too. And
if your house still has an old-fashioned gas boiler then you should convert to
a condensing boiler as soon as possible. It can cut your bills and your carbon
footprint for heating by up to a third. Last but not least, there may be some
major savings to be achieved by reducing the heat loss in your home,
draught-stripping of windows and home insulation (if you have’nt already
applied these measures).
Of the other substantial
energy uses in the home the next most important are in the kitchen – cooking and
refrigeration. Obviously there are small easy changes you can make which will
reduce consumption, like making sure your refrigerator is not set too cold, or
not over-filling your kettle. But when you come to change your appliances, pay
attention to their energy efficiency ratings.
Still in the home, another
simple but substantial energy saving is switching to LED lightbulbs. The energy
saving compared to old -fashioned incandescent bulbs is over 80%. Again it is a
simple step which both saves money and reduces your carbon footprint.
Finally there is the
indirect impact of the energy and carbon emissions associated with the various
consumer goods we buy. If we all reduced our consumption of manufactured goods,
but especially those that have a high carbon content, then that would certainly
be an important impact. This is a much more complex and contentious subject and
I hope to address this and related issues in later postings. It is not always
easy to tell which are the worst industries in causing emissions, but one recent
report by the World Bank has claimed that the fashion industry is responsible
for 10% of global emissions, more than aviation and shipping combined.
You should expect to
see more public discussion on this in the future.
the next question will be: Do individual actions have an impact or do they just
help us feel good?
From the pure doctrines of neoliberal thinking the
intellectual pendulum has been moving back from market fundamentalism towards
more ambivalent and centrist positions on the role of policy interventions by
the state. Nowhere is this more true than in the vitally important power sector
and its pivotal position in addressing climate issues. A major review from
within the World Bank confirms this trend.
The phrase Washington
Consensus was first used in 1989 by the economist John Williamson to describe
prescriptions on policies for macroeconomic stabilization, opening of markets
to trade and investment, and the expansion of market forces within domestic
economies. Subsequently, and to his dismay, it was given a wider meaning, to
refer to a more general orientation towards a strongly market-based approach
(sometimes described as market fundamentalism or neoliberalism). The
distinction is huge, and Williamson has argued
that his original, narrowly defined prescription is now broadly taken for granted, enjoying the
status of "motherhood and apple pie", but that the broader meaning,
as a kind of neoliberal manifesto, "never enjoyed a consensus in
Washington or anywhere much else" and can reasonably be said to be dead.
We are now seeing the gradual but
measurable decline in influence of the more fundamentalist market philosophies that
have dominated the last 30 to 40 years. For much of that time, the power
sector, long a natural monopoly, has been in the nature of a laboratory for market-centric philosophies.
A main obsession of policy makers in the
power sector has therefore been pursuit of a so-called market liberalisation agenda. Nowhere
was this more prevalent than in major international institutions. These included
the Energy Directorate of the Commission of the European Union, in its vision for
a single integrated European energy market, and the World Bank, in its
prescriptions for developing countries. The prescriptions were often strongly
influenced by what came to be known, perhaps inaccurately, as the Washington
Consensus. For electric power this meant several key characteristics:
·vertical and horizontal unbundling of what were
often fully integrated utilities; corporate separation of generation from the
wires businesses of the transmission (high voltage) and distribution (low
voltage) networks, and also from retail supply, and also division into multiple
entities in generation and distribution.
·the establishment of an independent regulator
for the sector, and formal regulation of the residual elements of natural
·privatisation of all the unbundled entities.
·ensuring the maximum of competition in all aspects
of the sector, but particularly in generation and supply.
Paradoxically for an industry
that had always, due to its combination of economies of scale and real time
command and control, been regarded as a natural monopoly, reforms to open up the
sector also became something of an icon for free market enthusiasts. If this
industry could be converted to a collection of markets then anything was
Progress in Europe
The UK had led the way when it
came to reform. In 1990 the UK wholesale market was deregulated, competition
was promoted and the industry was privatised.The European Commission enthusiastically encouraged
other EU countries to follow this lead and liberalise their electricity markets.
This was the dominant direction of travel, even if progress was both slow and
partial. In France, in particular, the market is dominated by state-owned
nuclear power, has a single transmission and a single distribution company, and
remains one of the most successful power sectors in Europe, as is indicated by
the comparative price figures shown below.
Meanwhile the UK, after
attaining something close to theoretical perfection by the late 1990s, has, over
the last 10 to 15 years, abandoned a number of the basic tenets of the
fundamentalist philosophy. Government has intervened both through the introduction
of price caps and by
making major decisions on, as well as underwriting of, new investment in
generating capacity. Unsurprisingly leading free market enthusiasts such as
now write that “…in the EU, and the UK in particular, the liberalisation of the
electricity market is rapidly being reversed and replaced by old-fashioned
There are a number of good (as
well as less good) reasons for this dramatic shift in policy direction. An important one is the
increasing emphasis on policy for reducing CO2 emissions, where the
EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) has proved inadequate to the task of
generating realistic carbon prices consistent with ambitious emission reduction
policies. Another is the intrinsic failure of liberalised market structures to
provide the incentives necessary to induce new investment in long life generation
assets. A third is a failure to adapt spot markets designed by and for fossil
generation plant operators as they become increasingly unworkable in a world
dominated by the technical characteristics of renewables, nuclear and energy
storage. A fourth is that even in its most liberalised form the power market
has always retained significant elements of command and control, as well as a
significant and complex role for the network operators who remain as natural
monopolies. And, finally, competitive
retail markets, where they exist, have not delivered significant benefits to
consumers and do not command widespread public approval.
But the bottom line is that
the paradigm of energy markets free of significant intervention has been
quietly dropped. Certainly, privatisation of the monopoly network components of
the sector, with effective regulation, has brought some efficiency gains. But governments
have also recognised their continuing responsibility for maintaining reliable and
sustainable supply.In the UK there has been a dawning realisation
of the need to reverse direction and head downhill from the sunlit uplands of
the reform purists, and will shortly see it meeting an EU still struggling
half-heartedly towards the summit.
And in developing economies? A
recent ESMAP (World Bank) review suggests a major loss of
faith in the Washington Consensus.
In the home of the Washington
Consensus, the World Bank has long been attempting to improve power sector
governance in developing countries, often using the
liberalised market paradigm as an ideal. The typical underlying problems in much
of the developing world are well known. They include arbitrary and inconsistent
political interference in the sector, inadequate cost recovery (which in turn
limits funds available for investment), and managerial inefficiency in state
monopolies. World Bank prescriptions invariably contain many sensible proposals
to remedy these problems, but they also pushed the comprehensive free market
agenda far too hard in a sector that had always been recognised as one of the
most difficult in which to create a genuine and effective competitive market.
The results were predictable. An
extremely valuable recent review
by ESMAP reviewed experience across a
wide range of countries. The lessons are revealing.
Only one in five countries
implemented both vertical and horizontal unbundling of utilities, separating
generation transmission and transmission from distribution and creating
multiple generation and distribution utilities. Restructuring is intended primarily
as a stepping stone to deeper reforms, and countries that went no further
tended not to see significant impacts. Indeed, restructuring of power
systems that are very small and/or poorly governed … can actually be
counter-productive by reducing the scale of operation and increasing its
Only one in five developing
countries has been able to introduce a wholesale power market during the past
25 years. … A demanding list of structural, financial, and regulatory
preconditions for power markets prevents most other developing countries from
Many countries announced
reforms that did not subsequently go through, and some countries enacted
reforms that later had to be reversed.
Although many countries
enacted solid legal frameworks, the practice of regulation continues to lag far
behind. For example, while almost all countries give the regulators legal
authority on the critical issue of determining tariffs, this authority is
routinely overruled by the governments in one out of three countries. … cost
recovery remains an elusive goal.
Among the best-performing
power sectors in the developing world are some that fully implemented
market-oriented reforms, as well as others that retained a dominant and
competent state-owned utility guided by strong policy mandates, combined with a
more gradualist and targeted role for the private sector.
Where distribution utilities
were privatized, countries were much more likely to adhere to cost-recovery
tariffs. This however is a confusion of cause and effect. It will
normally only be possible to persuade private investors to participate if
financial viability has already been guaranteed by tariff reforms. Requiring a
newly privatised business to implement tariff reforms will tend to discredit the
private sector by blaming it for higher prices.
Market reforms can be helpful
in improving the overall efficiency and financial viability of the power
sector, and in creating a better climate for investment. However, they
cannot—in and of themselves—deliver on these social and environmental
aspirations. Complementary policy measures are needed to direct and incentivize
the specific investments that are needed.
This is a complex and
revealing story of modest successes and disappointing failures. The theoretical
ideals of unfettered competitive markets and minimal state involvement have
proved to be less important than much more basic goals of good governance, limiting
arbitrary political interference and patronage, introducing cost covering tariffs
and improving revenue collection (eg by reducing illegal abstraction). Much of
this depended simply on making power sector entities into commercial
organisations rather than organs of government.
All these basic reforms were in any case preconditions for the success
of more ambitious targets, such as privatisation or functioning spot markets
for energy trading. And developing countries will be under international
pressures to face the same policy challenges as the developed world in terms of
sustainability; this will continue to limit the scope for “hands off” policies
for the energy sector.
The Way Ahead
To a very large extent the
power sector is the future of low carbon energy provision, and its organisation
is therefore a vitally important matter to everyone. The “Washington Consensus”
will have had some notable achievements in promoting independent regulation, transparency,
formal separation from government and a more commercial approach. But the more
ambitious aspirations, for pure market structures free of policy interventions,
have remained out of reach. The central importance of the sector, especially in
the context of sustainable policies to address the issues of climate change,
mean that governments are increasingly likely to play a major role in monitoring
and supporting low carbon policies for the power sector.
This summary paraphrases a Wikipedia article on this subject which also
references Williamson’s observations on the subject.
 A much
fuller discussion of these issues can be found using the tab LOW CARBON POWER on the
The Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme of the World Bank. “ESMAP is
a partnership between the World
Bank Group and 18 partners to
help low and middle-income countries reduce poverty and boost growth, through
environmentally sustainable energy solutions. ESMAP’s analytical and advisory
services are fully integrated within the WBG’s country financing and policy
dialogue in the energy sector.”
Transport is one of the main
sources of CO2 emissions and it is sometimes assumed that more buses
and trains are the solution. Public transport has a collective value in its own
right, but public transport per se is not always the silver bullet for huge
reduction in CO2 emissions. Emissions per passenger-kilometre is an
imperfect metric, but we have to accept that trains and buses do not always
score well. They can, with too few passengers, have rather high emissions per
passenger-kilometre, even compared to private cars. Policies to reduce total transport
emissions can only be developed, therefore, if full account is taken of the
multiple factors in play. Public transport will have a major role but our
approach needs to be holistic, and integrated with other objectives as well as
It’s also the case that the
economics answer to most problems – reflect the issue properly in prices and
all will be well – does not always fit well with transport. Fuel is already
highly taxed but much travel demand is essential and price-inelastic; higher
fuel prices may have limited, or insufficient, impact on the demand for private
vehicle use. This implies the need to look at wider policy options. These
include the unglamorous world of other regulatory and planning interventions,
including congestion pricing, traffic management and town and land use
How does public transport
score on emissions?
It is difficult to find
statistics that are reliable, up-to-date, and truly representative, but it is
not hard to find reasonable if approximate indications. The comparative
(average) figure for the private car is
171g per person-kilometre, falling to 85g for a driver and passenger, and 44g
for a driver and three passengers. For buses the numbers likewise depend on
fuel used, size and age of bus, type of journey and so on. My indicative
for buses are DEFRA based and from the website https://carbonindependent.org/ . The
figure for bus performance is an average CO2 emission of 822 g / km. The DEFRA
statistics allowed Carbon Independent.org to estimate the average loading of UK
buses at 9.2 passengers.
In very approximate terms this
means that the bus must have at least nine passengers in order to get down to
90g per person-kilometre and be able to “compete” on emissions with the private
car with one passenger. Comparable results have been quoted by the US
Department of Energy. Seat occupancy rates in cities may generally meet this challenge,
but in many suburban or rural areas this is much less likely to be the case.
That is certainly suggested by the estimates cited in Carbon
Independent.org, with much higher g/km figures cited for the average of bus
journeys outside London. So for some journeys the bus will be generating lower
emissions than the private car, but on lightly loaded routes, often those
serving more remote areas, significantly more. Prima facie this is a
disappointing finding for anyone expecting a simple solution to transport
A contrasting benchmark is the
London Underground, with emissions estimated at a mere 9g per person-kilometre
(and reduced further as the power sector moves towards complete decarbonisation);
this offers an excellent example of public transport providing very clear
emissions savings. A key factor is clearly utilisation or load factor, which in
turn tends to reflect population density.
Of course the public transport
network is about more than just passenger-kilometre comparisons. It is often an
essential for other social and economic reasons – such as inclusivity, enabling
economic activity, and reducing congestion. And for the personal choice of the environmentally
aware, it will be preferable to choose public transport when it is available
and meets the need, since the incremental emissions will be close to zero.
What mix of policies do we
The answer in the long run has
to include low or zero carbon fuel sources. Electric vehicles (or equivalent
alternatives such as hydrogen) have the potential, ultimately, to reduce
emissions to close to zero. But while technology may be the primary means to
achieving the ultimate goal of zero emissions, there should also be a big
premium on the large, valuable and immediate gains to be made simply by
reducing emissions from the stock of vehicles in use now and in the near and
medium term. If more public transport per se is not a solution for the
mitigation transport emissions then it’s worth examining other options. This
blog has consistently emphasised the high value of immediate emissions reduction as
both postponing climate milestones and providing option value for the future. Immediate
and urgent actions have a higher value, tonne for tonne, than future solutions.
Two factors that are a major contributor
to energy consumption are speed and congestion, for obvious reasons. Speed
matters because the energy requirement tends to rise as the square of velocity,
as anyone who has used a trip computer to make this comparison on the motorway
will testify. Congestion matters because of the loss of energy implied in
constant stopping, starting, and idling.
The remedies are relatively
straightforward to describe, at least in principle, although more complex to
implement. Reducing and/or more strictly enforcing motorway speed limits could
have a significant and immediate impact, with an additional benefit in terms of
safety. Congestion pricing, applied successfully in London and elsewhere, could
be used more widely in the UK and other major cities. Both these measures
continue to have their merits even in an all-electric low carbon world, and are
complementary to effective planning and good public transport systems.
The search for better and low
carbon transport policies will continue, but it needs to be a mix of low or
zero carbon sources of energy, clever urban planning, and economic incentives
to reduce congestion, as well as well-designed public transport systems.
figures as quoted by the BBC and shown in my previous
posting of 2nd January 2020 on this subject.
author quotes estimates from different sources for out of London and in London
buses, while aggregate figures are drawn primarily from a 2007 DEFRA study.
Given the changes in bus fleets, and inclusion of some gas powered or hybrid
vehicles, these are arguably dated estimates. However more recent 2015 figures
released for the actual performance of new Routemaster buses on London routes show
significantly higher fuel consumption and hence emissions than the indicative
numbers I have used.
they significantly worse than aviation? In any case the same policy issues, of
failure to price or tax CO2 emissions, are relevant.
last posting addressed one of the issues arising from the failure to price any
of the carbon/climate externality of aviation into the cost/price of aviation
fuel. Among other things this has, in the absence of low carbon aircraft alternatives,
encouraged a possibly unsustainable expansion of demand for travel, and distorted
the choices that travellers make between different modes of transport. In that
posting I compared the emissions impact of flying and driving for a
hypothetical choice of holidays travelling 2000 km on a round trip to the South
of France; the key measure was grams of CO2 per passenger-kilometre.
the issue is not confined to aviation. The same problems arise for shipping. Greenhouse
gas emissions from all forms of international transport contribute to
anthropogenic global warming, but were never covered under the Kyoto Protocol
and continue to escape effective action, in the form of a carbon tax or a
carbon price, to limit emissions and mitigate climate impacts.
it seems fair, in this context, to consider the impact of another alternative
type of holiday. More recently there has been much criticism of the negative
environmental impact of cruise ships. This is by no means confined to
emissions, and includes the overcrowding impact of very large cruise ships on
major tourist destinations, such as Dubrovnik or Venice. Ships also tend to use
heavy fuel oil which is particularly bad in terms of its immediate local
consequences on air quality.
the most serious issue for shipping is CO2 emissions, and, in terms
of comparison with other choices for personal travel, some attention has been
given to measuring these. Most published information on emissions statistics
comes from the cruise companies, and it is not always easy to draw exact comparisons
with other modes of transport. Among
other factors emissions per passenger-kilometre may be a rather poor metric since
so much depends on the length and nature of the journey and the consumption of
fuel for powering on-board services (lighting, catering, etc). And cruises will
tend intrinsically to cover shorter travel distances, so some holidays based on
short haul cruises will lead to lower emissions than some long-haul flights.
The BEIS has also put a figure
on ferry transport - 18g of CO2 per passenger kilometre for a foot
passenger, which is less than a coach, or 128g for a driver and car, which is close
to our earlier figures for a long-haul flight. But ferries ages and efficiency
will vary around the world - and a ferry won't get you to the Caribbean,
although a cruise ship or ocean liner would.
2010 paper in
Energy Policy presented the results of research into international cruise ship
journeys to and from New Zealand. CO2 emissions from such journeys were calculated
using an activity based, or “bottom-up”, model. The estimates for individual
journeys by cruise ships to or from New Zealand in 2007 ranged between 250 and
2200 g of CO2 per passenger-kilometre (g CO2 per p-km), with
a weighted mean of 390 g CO2 per p-km.
Energy Policy paper also calculated price elasticities and international cruise
journeys for transport purposes were found to have a greater relative decrease
in demand than plane journeys if the impact of carbon pricing was analysed. In
other words, putting a price on the environmental damage would be even more effective
in reducing emissions from cruise ships, reducing demand for cruises as a
preferred holiday option and incentivising cruise companies to develop cleaner
is often a “shore-side” perversity as well. The absence of any penalty on
burning heavy fuel oil means that ships will also continue to pollute the local
environment in port when it would be a straightforward matter to power on-board
facilities through connection to the local electricity network, which will
often be based on a cleaner fuel mix.
again the transport and travel sectors provide a textbook illustration of the
need to reflect clear externalities into the pricing of travel, so that consumers
can make choices that come closer to reflecting a balance of personal benefits
and societal damage. The evidence is that this can work both by shifting demand
to less “carbon-intensive” activity , and by reducing the environmental impact
emissions from international cruise ship passengers' travel to and from New
Zealand. Howitt et al. Energy Policy. Volume 38, Issue 5, (May 2010)