A key focus of our Climate Action network is working with councils to adopt ambitious Climate Action Plans. We've written this guide to help you understand more about the section on transport in the Climate Action Plan for councils, including recommendations and what we think the government needs to do.

13 Sep 2021

Background information

Transport is the largest source of UK greenhouse gases, responsible for more than a third of emissions when you include emissions from international aviation and shipping. Despite the worsening climate crisis, the Department for Transport (DfT) allowed emissions to continue to increase by sidelining climate-friendly measures in its strategy. But a failure by councils to address transport emissions has also contributed to this situation. In fact, some councils are still promoting more road building and expansion of aviation.

The DfT does not yet have a comprehensive plan for decarbonising transport, although one is promised. The Climate Change Committee has made recommendations to the government, but we think stronger action is needed.

We’ve collected and analysed data on transport for every local authority area and set a 2030 target for each area for public transport, cycling, and walking. Find out how your area performs on transport target.

The goal

To significantly and rapidly increase the proportion of people that travel by cycling, e-bikes and walking, as well as public transport, in order to meet World Health Organisation's air pollution standards and climate goals.

What councils should do

Some councils have a significant influence on transport emissions, but not District Councils. A comprehensive briefing on what transport authorities – county councils and unitary authorities – can do on transport has been produced by Transport for Quality of Life for Friends of the Earth.

But the government also needs to do a lot more to empower councils to act. Friends of the Earth has joined forces with council organisations and others to identify the powers and resources needed. Read our joint Blueprint.

Points 20 to 28 in our Climate Action Plan for councils identify priorities for action from councils.

20. Enable the rapid shift to electric vehicles (EVs) by installing charging points.

Even if we reduce car use, there will still be continued use of some cars and other vehicles. Installing electric vehicle chargers is important. Our data analysis shows how many charging points there are in your area and how many more are needed by 2030.

21. Prioritise transport investment into cycling, walking, trams and public transport.

Segregated cycleways and e-bikes should be the future of urban transport. In over 100 towns and cities across the world, buses have even been made free as part of a policy to prioritise public transport. Good examples of councils prioritising sustainable transport include Greater Manchester’s commitment to invest in cycling and the City of York’s investment in electric double-decker buses.

22. Put in place Clean Air Zones, with charging if needed.

Councils are required to address areas with illegal levels of air pollution. One of the most effective ways to do this is to implement a Clean Air Zone which introduces charges for or restricts the most polluting vehicles from entering the area. Bath and North East Somerset has introduced charges, as will Birmingham from June 2021.

23. Reduce car use through measures such as promoting car-sharing, improving bus services and constraining road space.

Warwickshire County Council has worked with major employers in the area and social enterprise Liftshare to encourage staff to share lifts when driving to work. This not only reduces pollution and the number of cars on the road, but it can also make the daily commute more enjoyable. The government’s new Bus Strategy for England (excluding London) provides strong incentives for transport authorities and bus companies in England to jointly agree a plan for improving bus services, although the ambition and funding is still very limited.

24. Require all taxis to be electric through licensing.

As taxis are regulated by the local council, they can be required to meet a certain standard to curb pollution. A number of councils are using licensing and financial support to encourage taxis to use hybrid or pure electric cars, for example in South Cambridgeshire, Newcastle-Under-Lyme and Leeds.

25. Deliver a rapid transition of the council’s own fleet to electric vehicles.

Chelmsford Borough Council is one of several local authorities that has introduced electric vehicles into its fleet. These are used by park staff and by other staff to attend meetings that are not accessible by public transport.

26. Require deliveries to the council to be by electric vehicles.

As large buyers of services and goods, councils can use their procurement policy to improve the environmental performance of private business. Not only can this mean buying quality products or services, but also requiring that these are delivered using electric vehicles.

27. Introduce differential charges for parking permits or other car related charges.

Parking charges can incentivise the purchase of electric vehicles by charging the most polluting vehicles more. Nottingham City Council’s very successful workplace car parking levy has raised significant sums of money for public transport investment.

28. Reduce the need to own and use a car through managing the location and design of new developments in the local plan and improving provision of cycling, walking and public transport.

Local authorities have responsibilities for land-use planning. They need to use their power to plan for less car use by ensuring that any new homes are located close to public transport and have good quality cycle routes to shops and services.

Government action

The Department for Transport is currently rewriting its strategies and plans for transport. It says it is going to bring them in line with the need to reduce emissions to net zero. So far, they have produced a vision for walking and cycling and a bus strategy. Both are improvements on the status quo but fall well short of what is needed. They also have brought forward the cut-off date for selling new petrol and diesel cars and vans to 2030.

But at the same time, they have a £27 billion roads programme and have yet again frozen fuel duty while allowing fares on public transport to rise. They have also failed to act on the sales of 4x4s which are responsible for emissions from new cars increasing despite efficiency improvements.

As part of the Blueprint Coalition, Friends of the Earth has identified actions the government needs to take to empower councils. We have also identified the actions the government itself needs to take.

Transport policy is devolved to Wales and Northern Ireland. Friends of the Earth Cymru has identified a Welsh transport strategy that's fit for the climate emergency.

More detailed information

Making transport fit for the climate emergency.

A blueprint for accelerating climate action and a green recovery at the local level.

Climate Change Committee recommendations on surface transport.

Green Alliance, 2021, The Case for Clean Air Zones.

Advice on developing a climate action plan.