Kick the car: the lifestyle change for cleaner air

30 May 2018

Changing our lifestyles and the way we travel could have as big an impact on global and local air pollution, as the anticipated transport revolution and widespread adoption of electric vehicles, according to new UK Energy Research Centre research [1].

Published in Energy Efficiency [2], the study uses Scotland as an example and suggests that radical lifestyle change can show quicker results on transport pollution than the gradual transition to Electric Vehicles and phasing out of conventional petrol and diesel vehicles.

This research is particularly timely, given Scottish Government’s announcement of the new Climate Change Bill last week. Described as the ‘toughest climate change legislation in the world’, with a binding target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 90 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050 and an ambition for a zero carbon achievement [3].

Led by UKERC Co-Director, Dr Christian Brand, Associate Professor at Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute and Transport Studies Unit, in collaboration with colleagues Jillian Anable from the University of Leeds and Craig Morton at the University of Loughborough, the paper explores how plausible changes in the way we travel might reduce energy use and emissions in Scotland over the next three decades and beyond.

Lead author, UKERC Co-Director and Oxford Scientist Dr Christian Brand explains:

Our study explores how Scotland might achieve these targets in the transport sector.  We find that both lifestyle change – such as making fewer and shorter journeys, sharing existing journeys, or shifting to walking, cycling and clean public transport – and a comprehensive strategy around zero emission technologies are needed to get anywhere near the hugely ambitious targets, in particular beyond 2030

The findings suggest that, only through prioritisation of both demand- (lifestyle, social and cultural change) and supply-side (new technology) transport solutions, might we have a chance of curbing carbon emissions in line with the United Nation’s 1.5oC Climate Change Agreement.

The co-benefits of such change to human health and the NHS are enormous.

The newfound urgency of ‘cleaning up our act’ since the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2016 and Dieselgate scandal suggests that we cannot just wait for the technology fix,

Traditionally governments have prioritised technology fixes and supply-side transport solutions to the carbon emission problem.

However, the authors suggest that a long-term carbon and air quality emission-cutting strategy should consider both demand- and supply-side transport solutions, for the best chance of success.

Change will need to be led by consumers, policy makers and industry alike, they say.

We need to look at how we can inspire and support consumer lifestyle changes – in travel patterns, land use planning, mode and vehicle choice, vehicle occupancy – to be in with a chance of reducing our carbon emissions in line with legislated targets and travelling on the ‘Road to Zero’ faster, further and more flexible.



Notes to Editor

[1] The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) carries out world-class, interdisciplinary research into sustainable future energy systems. It is a focal point of UK energy research and a gateway between the UK and the international energy research communities. Our whole systems research informs UK policy development and research strategy. UKERC is funded by The Research Councils Energy programme.

[2] The research was undertaken for UKERC and the ClimateXChange Centre of Expertise in Scotland.  “Lifestyle, efficiency and limits: modelling transport energy and emissions using a socio-technical approach” can be accessed here:

[3] See for further information:

[4] Using the newly developed Scottish Transport Energy Air pollution Model, STEAM, the various energy and environmental outcomes for four contrasting transport futures were explored:

  1. A future when increased awareness of climate change inspires lifestyle change in travel patterns, mode and vehicle choice, vehicle occupancy;
  2. A future when electric vehicle technology and petrol/diesel ‘phase out’ reduce carbon emissions;
  3. A future that considers both social and technological changes;
  4. And a future that assumes no social or technological changes.

[5] For further information please contact Jessica Bays / 07809 239 308