Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Stephen Plowden

  1.  This is a huge subject, and the Committee has allowed only a very short time to deal with it. My main purpose in replying is to draw attention to two very important and relatively neglected instruments of transport policy: lower and better enforced speed limits and more modestly designed vehicles. There are two ways in which CO2 emissions, along with all the other costs and nuisance of road traffic, can be reduced: by reducing vehicle miles, and by reducing emissions and other costs per vehicle mile. Lower speeds work in both ways. Vehicles are over-designed (too heavy, too powerful, too fast and with too much acceleration) for the jobs that they now do, and in some cases it would be better if they did a different job, which would allow further reductions in emissions and other nuisance.

  2.  I tried to write an ad hoc memo for the Committee dealing with both these subjects and putting them in the wider context of the other reforms needed in transport policy that they would complement and reinforce, but it is impossible in the time. The best I can do is to send the committee memos formerly sent to the HoC Transport Committee, which have been copied below [not printed]. I have done quite a lot of work on these topics since these memos were written and can answer questions if the Committee wishes.

  3.  There are three wider points which it is important to make in contradiction of the view that the Government seems to hold that to do anything effective to tackle climate change would be extraordinarily difficult:

    (1)  As far as land transport is concerned, there is nothing that should be done because of climate change that should not be done if global warming did not exist.

    (2)  It is a mistake to think that environmental improvements involve a sacrifice of transport efficiency. On the contrary, both transport efficiency and the environment are threatened by the same things: the excessive and indiscriminate use of motor vehicles, inappropriate vehicles and poor driver behaviour.

    (3)  The idea that the necessary reforms would be unpopular is in most cases wrong. We know both from social surveys and from the way that people behave when they are given the chance that they would like a different context and options. What is true, however, is that any reforms involving speed would be opposed by a vocal minority, to whom the Government pays excessive regard.


  Everyone knows that the first and most important step is to tax aviation fuel. The reason why the Government refuses to propose this is the fear of losing votes. The solution is for all political parties to commit themselves to introducing or supporting this tax.

February 2006

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