The best way of cutting emissions from road transport is to reduce the size and weight of conventional cars, a major University of Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and Environment report says.
The School’s Future of Mobility Roadmap, which assesses the potential for low-carbon transport on land, by air and sea, calls for large, inefficient vehicles to be taxed and the proceeds used to improve public transport and encourage cycling and walking.
Dr Oliver Inderwildi, the lead author of the study, says electric and hydrogen vehicles are likely to remain niche products for many years because of limited battery life and the high cost of platinum, which is needed for the catalysts in hydrogen fuelled cars.
Better technology could significantly cut emissions from aircraft and shipping but incentives and regulation will be needed to encourage users to switch to low-carbon forms of transport, however.
The study assesses a wide range of options for reducing emissions from transport. It says that algae-based biofuels could significantly cut transport emissions in the future but that existing biofuels are limited because of land shortages and food security concerns.
Even so, reducing the carbon footprint of cars and replacing domestic flights with high speed rail could still produce “drastic emissions savings."
“There is ample opportunity for emissions reductions by further improvements of currently available technology combined with a change in user habits."
Benefits would include increased mobility, reduced air pollution and the easing of congestion. “Improving our transport systems would reap many environmental benefits, while green technologies could create jobs in underdeveloped areas.
“Previous revolutions such as the transformation of our communication system in the 1990s have had a tremendous impact on economic growth."
The study warns, however, that action must be taken immediately to have any impact on climate change because of the long lifetime of transport fleets and subsequent delays in technological impact.
“Many technological options are already available and, in combination with infrastructure investments, [will] support the economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide other long-term benefits."