Megabus emissions causes delays

Out of service for high emissions (source: own)

Traffic. Leaves on the track. Awaiting flight crew. Industrial action. Unforeseen circumstances. All referenced reasons for delays to your journey. But, how about the vehicle you are travelling on having to stop because it is exceeding its emissions limits? This is what happened to me early this morning. Here are some ponderings on what has happened.

Megabus is a beautiful thing. Daily travel across UK and Europe, semi-comfortable, fitted with free wifi and sockets, all on the cheap. Due to their price ratchet mechanism, you can steal a bargain – I recently did a return from London to Plymouth for £2.70.

Taking the night journey is a bit more taxing on the body as circulation of blood ceases and the bus slowly hot boxes with sweaty recycled air. But, this is what I did last night.

I was most surprised when I awoke to an announcement from a very apologetic Welsh driver. The coach was persistently exceeding its emissions limits so has to come out of service. Going to need a different coach.

While fellow passengers were becoming understandably concerned about getting to flights on time, I was more intrigued by what the emissions issue was all about. Twitter didn’t really solve it.


Chatting to the driver, I gleaned a bit more info. Apparently, this is the third time the vehicle’s software had detected irregularities and it’s a company policy of three strikes and you are out.

This disrupted not just our service, but another service that had to divert to us, the subsequent services our driver was driving and those further services of the vehicle. All this, in addition to the repairs, refunds and reputation costs will affect the business. So, why has it occurred? What’s the legislation on this? And why does Megabus done this?

I don’t have the answers for these, but I did have a delay of two hours and fifty minutes to consider it…

EU Emissions Standards

I presume they are measuring emissions to ensure their diesel engines achieve the European Union standards on air pollution from buses and coaches. Tailpipe emissions from such vehicles can include lots of different matter that may cause considerable global warming potential, but, importantly, public health impacts. Notable among these are particulate matter (PM) and nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions.

Euro 1-6
EU tailpipe emissions standards (source: Doug Jack)

The graphic above shows how these standards have progressively tightened over 25 years. The limits refer to new vehicles. As this coach has a registration plate dated ‘61’, I assume it is affected by the Euro 5 standards which require no greater than 2g/kWh for NOx and 0.02g/kWh for PM. More detail here.

So, if that Megabus is not staying within these levels, it is breaking EU legislation. So, probably something they don’t want to be doing, right?

Does Megabus care?

Megabus is run by Stagecoach Group and this business has boasts that sustainability is at its core. Martin Griffiths, CEO, is quoted saying:

“When I think about sustainability for Stagecoach Group, it’s fundamental. It’s not an add on to the business strategy, it underpins the business strategy.”

Last year, the FT reported that many companies are ignoring the law. In that article, Stagecoach Group stated explicitly that its fleet complies fully with EU legislation.

So, if Stagecoach Group is genuine about their sustainable intentions, it would make sense to keenly monitor emissions levels of its fleet using technologies and procedures to keep its emissions as clean as its conscience. Doing so would incur considerable finance.

Even more costly would be terminating services for the reasons discussed earlier. So, would Megabus do this on just a voluntary basis?

I am yet to understand whether they are required to stop by law. But, with such detailed emissions data, evidencing law-breaking activity would be easy for an authority.

Furthermore, high emissions could be an indicator of a breakdown. Better quit at a service station than in the middle lane of the M4.

Reducing air pollution?

Whether required or voluntary, the action of ceasing operations in favour of a reduction on emissions sounds great to me.

However, I query whether it makes sense from an emissions accounting perspective. Would running an extra coach, taxis and recovery vehicles actually cause a net increase in emissions of NOx and PM? I would imagine so.

Air pollution v delays

Ultimately, I wonder whether this is the beginning of a new and obvious impact of environmental regulation upon the public. If such delays become persistent, will the public blame the wasted time on the coach operator or on the policy? If the latter, this would be a political hot potato risking future environmental legislation.

Whatever happens, I will let you know what Megabus have to say about it. If anyone has greater expertise on the topic, please do comment.


RE100 and transport


For me, the most exciting developments in 2015 revolved around business attitudes towards climate action. More and more companies and corporate leaders are coming together to push for ambition in climate policy, and, the advocacy of the We Mean Business coalition did wonders for creating a successful agreement at COP21 that will help unlock trillions of dollars of clean investment.

And there are a number of different standards, bodies or other collaborations businesses can get involved in to push forward their own sustainability agenda. One particularly popular programme is called RE100. In this post I give it some thought.


If you sign up to this, you are committing your business to being run on 100% renewable energy by a certain date (typically between 2020 and 2030). To do this you need to either produce your own renewables that you use or procure a certified renewable energy tariff. The ultimate aim is to promote a transformation of the global energy market and develop the transition to a low carbon economy.

I spreadsheeted some of the information available on the website. While detail of electricity use and target years are not available for about a third of the companies involved, here are some key things I found:


  • 58 companies are signed up so far. 38 have disclosed energy statistics on the website.
  • These businesses account for at least 37,973,370 MWh of annual electricity consumption (2014 data).
  • Equivalent to 0.2% of global energy consumption (2012 data).
  • This might not sound like much but is actually greater than the electricity use of at least 100 individual countries (2012 data).
  • As per the pie chart above, 39% of the electricity used is from a renewable supply.
  • The most common target year for 100% renewable is 2020.


Above, we can see the progress that various companies have made. The blue indicates proportion that is renewable and the red overlay is the total annual electricty use.

The businesses represent a diversity of different sectors and it is no surprise that the services sectors seem to have made greater progress than energy intensive or traditional sectors. That said, companies such as Microsoft and Ikea are showing that this is not an inevitability.

But what about transport?

This all looks very exciting for renewables. But, now lets focus on the transport side of things. What interest is there from transport businesses and how could this focus on electric energy affect transport energy?

From what I can see, there are three businesses from the transport sector. Two are car manufacturers (Tata Motors and BMW Group) and, therefore, not transport businesses. Their business is manufacturing just like Nestle or others.

The other company truly is a transport business. Formula E is sports entertainment designed at promoting electric vehicles technology and a clean energy future. Signing up to RE100 makes complete sense, but may well be challenging depending on the development of battery storage.

Scoping out the emissions savings

A quick reminder of the two aims of this campaign: renewables up, carbon down. But, the reason we want renewables to be up is primarily for the reduction of greenhouse gases. So, let’s have a look at it from the carbon side of things. A business’s carbon emissions, as defined by the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, are broken down into the three scopes:

  1. Scope 1 – GHGs directly emitted by that business
  2. Scope 2 – GHGs indirectly emitted as a result of that business purchasing energy
  3. Scope 3 – GHGs indirectly emitted as a result of activities that are not controlled or owned by that business, not including the purchase of energy

RE100’s explicit focus will relate to reducing carbon from scopes 1 and 2.  Of course, all the RE100 businesses will require a transport of people or goods, and the resulting emissions could be classified under any scope you like.  It does not appear that this is being considered, but should it? Could this be a barrier to achieving actual reductions in carbon emissions?

Let’s take a car company as an example. On the assumption that 100% renewable electricity costs more than the incumbent electricity cost, committing to RE100 may promote internal policies on energy efficiency. The manufacture of low carbon vehicles is reported as being higher carbon than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles. If this is so, and if the pressure is great enough to reduce electricity consumption, the car company could be pushed towards a petrol/diesel vehicle future on the basis of being able to meet its RE100 commitment and continuing business growth with scope 1 and 2 emissions down. Scope 3 would not decrease.

Another example could be a non-transport sector manufacturer. If they had their own fleet of vehicles doing deliveries of their goods, this would be accounted for in the business’s operations. The company would not need to consider this in RE100 if they could outsource that fleet, in order to push those transport emissions into scope 3.

Or, if you were running a retailer that offered a delivery service to customers, could you be incentivised to change your business model and run a store instead, thus eliminating any transport operations, and, again, transferring emissions to scope 3? An increase in the number of journeys required for the resulting transactions would drastically increase emissions.

RE100 for transport?

The above scenarios, are, of course, all hypothetical situations with a lot of assumptions made so do not take these as evidence that campaigns like RE100 could be increasing emissions. That is not at all likely. But, I just feel considering transport poses some interesting questions about corporate sustainability leadership.

BMW does fantastic work in developing low carbon vehicles but the bulk of its businesses focusses on disseminating GHG-emitting goods around the globe, emitting considerably more carbon than the manufacture process. Does this make the RE100 campaign a tokenistic gesture or is could it be a catalyst for change from within a business strategy that could affect society much wider?

I think the latter. As the stats showed above, the RE100 campaign is acknowledging some fantastic and bold strides businesses are undertaking to bring about this transition to a low carbon economy. Yes, transport is not included but, until a business fleet is purely electric, it never will be.

Is/Could/Shoud there be an equivalent RE100 campaign purely focused on transport emissions of a business? I don’t know yet but worth considering I feel.

5 things I learned about transport at Ecobuild 2016

Building a straw stand is appears to take a little longer than the others… (source: own)

Despite being a trade fair for the construction industry, Ecobuild has always been a date on the key calendar for those into any area of sustainability. This was the first year I have attended. A throbbing hub of businesses confirming that, regardless of cuts to government support made temporally and spatially, momentum for sustainable buildings and materials continues.

As I ambled around I learned a lot. I was particularly struck by how companies are blurring the lines between energy source and building material. Take Onyx Solar, a Spanish company that produces sheet glass with embedded photovoltaics so that your building’s wall, roof, floor, whichever surface can simultaneously generate electricity and look great. I also learned that straw is a viable 21st century building material, pictured above.

But, what about transport? Here are a couple of discoveries for me…

Hydrogen is happening

The recently launched Riversimple Rasa (source: own)

A few vehicles of the future were dotted around the ExCeL centre for this event. The Nissan Leaf performed its role as current poster boy for low emissions lifestyles. But, the show off technology was hydrogen fuel cells.

A quick summary of the benefits of hydrogen over other potential propulsion sources: range of 300 miles, refuels in three minutes, lightweight cell. But, also it looks like the vehicles are really making a break from concept into demonstration – an exciting time for any disruptive technology.

The University of Coventry was showing off its family-sized model developed via projects with Microcab Industries. While this vehicle showed a lot of promise and practicability, my attention was mostly drawn to the Riversimple model on the other side of the room. The two seater (above) has recently been launched by this independent company based in Llandridnodd Wells.

This isn’t just a car, it is a business concept designed to promote sustainability on all levels. They have followed recent patterns by opting for car subscription over ownership to integrate non-linear economics and limit obsolescence. But, it is also a car made in Wales, by the Welsh, for the Welsh. Job creation and community-focused infrastructure makes this an obvious project to support by the Welsh Government.

Crowdfunding will begin for this very soon. Click here to keep in the loop.

Stations are the go to destination

Alexander Jan, Arup, talking on the Infrastructure Revolution stand (source: own)

The definition of a station is changing. In a talk entitled ‘How will transport hubs accommodate future travel demands and flexibility for future change?’, Alexander Jan, Director of City Economics, Arup, presented the benefits of giving transport hubs a makeover and a rethink.

Transport companies are often major property owners and converting the hubs into residential and commercial premises could bring in large amounts of extra cash. Jan used the TfL joint development model as an example where the redevelopment of their stations could bring in an astounding £3.4 billion of non-fare revenue.

It was interesting to hear that construction builds investor momentum as well as buildings. I am sure game theory has a lot to tell us on how interest is immediately drawn in when it looks like something exciting is happening. Living in Croydon, a place undergoing considerable change to its skyline, I can understand that the opportunity does become apparent when somebody makes the first move.

While a number of potential governance and tax barriers need to be overcome for the projects to be effective, Jan was positive towards the future of the transport hub. ‘Stations are no longer places to pass through’ Jan explained. ‘They have a great future’.

Smart parking

There are vast numbers of opportunities waiting to be discovered with the introduction of disruptive technologies. One I had not encountered before was the idea behind SmartCarparks from FlexiSolar.

Car parks are often big open areas so why not cover each parking space in solar PV roofs? The property owner benefits from delivering premium quality parking and benefit from the energy cost savings. The car owner gets to benefit from cover and greater safety (potential for LED, CCTV). The electric vehicle industry and owners gets to benefit from the unlocking of vast amounts of charging infrastructure.

Assuming the economics of future feed-in-tariffs and public infrastructure investment work in the favour of public solar, this is a certain example of a win-win-win.

Batteries are here

A shaky image of a Telsa Powerwall, sorry for the quality… (source: own)


It was a month ago that the UK saw it’s first Tesla Powerwall installed. But, at Ecobuild, they were everywhere; being shown off left, right and centre. There are a number of competitor batteries out there too, lacking the glossy PR of a Tesla product.

Seeing these batteries for the first time, it really struck me like I was looking at really early versions of computers or mobile phones from last century. Sleek as they are, I cannot help but feel we will look back on these after a bit of Moore’s Law and chortle at their bulk.

From a transport perspective, I was interested to consider what impact they can have on allowing you to charge your electric vehicle. As they are at the moment, the Tesla Powerwall cannot be used to directly plug in to the Tesla Model S, the vehicle would need a lot more energy.

But, seeing these batteries, sitting next to electric vehicles really showed me that there is potential for completely off-grid systems. Charge up your battery during the day using your solar parking space and solar tinted windows once you have driven to work. Then, unload that energy into your car when you get home. It may be a way off but it looks exciting to me.

Heathrow is doing its bit

It was interesting to see the airport had its own little stand at Ecobuild. I learned much from their blueprint for reducing emissions from the airport in 2016.

How do you do this, in a centre eager to boost activity with a third runway and much more capacity? Outside of incremental energy improvements in the buildings, this was summarised into 4 key areas:

  1. Aircraft activity – new cleaner aircraft; reducing aircraft energy consumption at the gate; improving taxiing efficiency
  2. Airport traffic – electric vehicles; cycle promotion; consolidated freight operations
  3. Airside vehicles – electric vehicles; driver training
  4. Leadership – hosting a conference

While none of these solutions sounded too ground breaking, the airport could well be a fantastic lab environment for the testing of low emissions vehicle solutions, particularly with the heavier airside vehicles.

With reductions firmly focussed on NOx in the brightly coloured pamphlet, the focus is clearly on local level pollution rather than climate change. And when asking where the pressure is coming from, it is obviously from a local/national level rather than anything international, from ICAO, say. Unsurprising, but, it felt like Heathrow, obliged or voluntarily, were wanting to head the field in sustainable airports with these annual blueprints.

Driving towards an EV future

A selection of electric vehicles parked at the Kia Oval, South London

The new line-up of Top Gear was recently announced. However, I argue that there should have been space for a presenter from the 90s – Quentin Wilson.

Why? I am no car fanatic. Neither, am I an avid television watcher. The last time I remember seeing Wilson on the screen was during a performance as a competitor on Strictly Come Dancing a long long time ago. So, it is fair to say, I have not followed the presenter’s career too closely this century.

But, last week, at an event in a South London car park, I discovered he is a promoter of the uptake of low emissions vehicles in the UK. For my experiences of that day, I feel he should be offered a place among the new Top Gear team. Here’s what happened…

It all started with a phone call I received a couple of weeks ago. It was an invitation to a GreenFleet event up in Scotland. I must have been left on the mailing list. I politely declined but did hear that they were doing a much smaller, more exclusive event at the Oval cricket ground where I would be able to try out the latest in electric vehicles (EV). I was free that day so bring it on.

After mistakenly sitting down in a health conference, I found my way to the cars. And what a beautiful selection of vehicles they were. As I said before, I am no car fanatic and I do not manage a fleet, so I had to be excused for my ignorance. What I did know is that low emissions vehicles only account for about 1% of the UK vehicle market. The graph below is taken from the Office of Low Emission Vehicle’s Uptake of Ultra Low Emission Vehicles in the UK report. While the UK performs comparably to similar economies, it is possible to do a lot better (great work Norway).

ULEV uptake
Percentage market share of ultra low emission vehicles (source: DfT)

So, I framed my afternoon around one central question: Why are the barriers preventing people from buying low emission vehicles?


The classic idea about EV is that they won’t get you very far and are only suitable for driving slowly around your neighbourhood at the perfect speed for delivering milk. I discovered the latest Nissan Leaf has a 30KWh battery, boasting a 155 mile range. This is not to be sniffed at. You could commute to from London to Brighton and not have to worry about finding a charge point during the day. Or if you lived 10 miles from work, that is a week’s worth of commuting on a single charge.


Then, I was invited behind the wheel of the Leaf. Akin to the first time I owned a Sony Walkman and the first occasion of zooming in on Google Earth, I was hit with that mild tingle of sublime as soon as I strapped into the cockpit. Using automatic transmission and swapping the handbrake for an extra footbrake made the experience novel. But, the game changer was the lack of revs. I had lost that audible acknowledgement of potential for movement. This vehicle just glided uncomplainingly to wherever I fancied.

I should have been playing a video game. The gear stick definitely belonged to an Xbox controller. Cameras model an overhead view of your vehicle so you could be playing Micro Machines when doing a reverse parallel park. And, you can of course get an app telling you all you need to know about how much charge is left, where your nearest point is and even to commence charging. I played the most conservative session of Grand Theft Auto while getting lost across Kennington and loved every second of it.

The Nissan e-NV200 van, running only on an electric battery

And, that was just one of a diverse fleet of EVs on the forecourt catering all types of driver and journey. If more people were having a go behind the wheel, I am sure there would be plenty more sales. As my instructor from Nissan told me ‘you give this car to someone for just one week, and they will never give it back.


My next concern is about charging. For me, finding a parking space in urban areas is usually a textbook needle-haystack situation. But what about one with a charging point attached? Raising this in a round table discussion, Quentin Wilson relayed the statistic that 90% of EV users charge at home. It turns out charging at home is easier than I had assumed. Of course, longer distance travel is more difficult but there is an ever expanding charge network. The graph below shows you that the number of connectors has more than doubled in just two years.

ZapMap stats
Number of EV public charging connectors in the UK (Source: ZapMap)

You can explore the ZapMap to see which are closest to you. I had no idea there was a charging point in my local council car park. You might be surprised too.


A grasp of any level of economics would inform you that the cost is the crux of the matter. New technology always costs more than the incumbent. You can get that Nissan Leaf I drove for about £20k. More expensive than similar conventional fuel vehicles. There are of course differences in running costs, policy incentives and monthly lease deals. A comparison of electric, diesel and petrol vehicle costs would be another blog post so I won’t go into detail here. All in all, if you were looking at buying a personal car in 2016 it looks like you will get a cheaper one by purchasing a conventional one in light of petrol price forecasts and cuts being brought in by the Conservative administration.

What about commercial fleets? The key issue is inertia. Representatives from large public organisations repeatedly talked about how they loved the idea of a fleet of EVs but they couldn’t get it through procurement. The spreadsheets aren’t set up for considering battery leases, electricity costs and charging point investments. Adding complexity to the finances is never going to incentivise a fleet manager to buy EV.

The good news on costs is that the margin between conventional and future vehicles is reducing. Battery costs are coming down. As this margin narrows, customer interest cannot help but soar.

A selection of BMW i3s. Always a quiet period in the EV car park

The future?

While costs remains a strong barrier to EV uptake, from that afternoon, I witnessed optimism and not just from the sales teams. Days like that allow negative perceptions to be removed from barriers like hinges from a door.

‘People’s reaction to electric vehicles is much more positive than before,’ Quentin Wilson said. ‘It has been a very very positive day’.

The thing that struck me most was the potential for public benefit if the individual invest. Looking out at the constantly moving car park, I realised the only noise I could hear was from the road outside. It was near silent. Imagine what a city would sound and smell like in the absence of internal combustion? People will get healthier lungs and could sleep a lot better.

The opportunities for public health should not be forgotten. Maybe next time that health conference I stumbled into could be sponsoring the EV event…


Huge thanks to GreenFleet for the invite and Nissan for letting me behind the wheel.

Go and experience EVs for yourself – check out GreenFleet’s event open to the public on 16 April 2016 in Scotland.

Will the tides turn for shipping in 2016?

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has welcomed Katick Lim as a new secretary general in 2016 and he is prioritising climate change. Is international shipping about to go full-steam ahead with radical emissions reduction policy?

First, why do we care?

As the work mule of the global economy (carrier of 90% of everything that you own) shipping creates it’s share of greenhouse gases. Between 2007 and 2012, shipping accounted for an average of 1,038 MtCO2e emissions per year – 2.8% of total global anthropogenic GHG emissions. There are a few reasons why this 2.8% is of particular concern.

Most of the emissions arise from international shipping, rather than any coastal or river shipping that may take place domestically. The offshore nature of the industry makes it difficult to attach to a country’s inventory of emissions. The governing authority for international shipping, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), takes on this responsibility. But, while this responsibility has been understood, no pressure has been applied at the COPs to bind the IMO into effective targets. The final text of the Paris Agreement was absent of any mention of international shipping or the IMO, leaving the industry to carry on business-as-usual.

And, business-as-usual means running on bunker fuels to power across the oceans. With the crashing oil price, limited fuel taxes, the knowledge and tradition of using oil-based fuels, there is little incentive to change.

Furthermore, ships have long lives. If you were to build a boat today, you would expect it to still be in use in 2056. And, if you were to build and sell a ship today, you are going to sell it for today’s market – running on bunker fuel. Therefore, without expensive retrofit investment, the performance of the ships being built today are dictating the emissions of international shipping for the next 40 years.

Historically, the IMO does not have a good record on being proactive in adopting strong emissions reduction policy. Carbon pricing has been shelved over recent years and, Marshall Island’s representative, Tony de Brum,’s passionate plea for a global emissions reduction target at the meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the IMO in 2015 did not receive enough support. While policies to improve fuel efficiency have made incremental improvements to new builds and current practices, they will not be radical enough to offset the expected demand increase.

So, bring together a very traditional industry locked in to fossil fuels with a lack of international pressure with the inertia of the governing body and you will worsen the problem. The Third IMO Greenhouse Gas Study expects emissions to increase by 50-250% from 2012 levels by 2050.

What in 2016 could change things?

Following Paris, much talk is on the implementation of carbon prices. Internally or globally, within government regulation or within corporate strategy, carbon prices are being introduced in different arenas around the world. And, shipping has not been forgotten.

Speaking in Davos, Laurent Fabius, COP21 President, reiterated the need for a focus on shipping and aviation this year. Significantly, the IMF published a report arguing the need for taxes.

So, will the IMO respond? Will Katick Lim take shipping on a different course?

His predecessor was Koji Sekimizu. Sekimizu was keen to emphasise the significance of shipping to the global economy. He showed a dislike of others interrupting IMO procedure and argued against an industry-wide emissions cap.

But, Lim comes into charge in a post-Paris era. The agenda of the next meeting of the MEPC will be influenced by the Agreement. In Climate Home’s interview, Lim is confident emissions targets will be back on the agenda and that progress will be made. If not, parties, such as the Marshall Islands, may give a gentle reminder.

Do young people care about their travel emissions?

Last week, an 18 year old chap, Jordon Cox, hit the headlines for making a cheaper journey between Sheffield and Essex by flying via Berlin instead of taking the train. While discovering air travel to be dramatically cheaper than rail is nothing new, the thing that interested me was that this extreme example can tell us a lot about the attitudes of travellers towards the environmental impact of their personal travel in 2016.

Youth Travel

In 2012, I researched this subject with a focus on gap year travellers, a demographic group likely to be very similar to Cox. Around 250,000 young people every year take time out to travel around the world. The vast majority of these international and intercontinental journeys are made using aeroplanes, attaching a considerable carbon footprint to their itineraries. I surveyed 255 of these people to see what they thought about this.

83% recognised that their travel would contribute to enhancing anthropogenic climate change. But, in terms of quantifying this, efforts were meagre; only 3% had attempted a carbon footprint of their travel.

Nothing particularly surprised me by these stats. One did. 56% said they would be keen to reduce this impact.

I realise the demand characteristic involved here. When asked “do you want to save the world?” you aren’t really going to say no. However, it was the subsequent interest in possible solutions. People were keen to take part in environmental projects abroad or purchase a carbon offset. By far the most popular option was using overland alternatives, ways of getting to places without such vast sums of emissions, as required for air travel.


What my research did not explore was the finances. But, costs are why Cox’s story has become a media sensation. So, what do people say when the environmental cost is queried?

The best bit about online media is reading the comments below. Often much more entertaining than the Youtube video you scrolled away from. In the comments section of his article, Cox acknowledges the enhanced environmental impact, but, shows no regret in taking this irregular journey. He recognises the potential for a fun, affordable and spontaneous adventure:

“Some people don’t have enough money to go on holidays… But still need to travel in the UK… Here is an opportunity to do both!”

Other commentators pointed out the plane would fly anyway. Cox also mentioned affordable offset schemes. But, I was particularly struck by the number of responses who said that the environmental cost is not worth it if you only have a tight budget.

So, these environmental costs should only be internalised when affordable, a luxury attached to premium travel perhaps. But, then, the comparison between a train journey and a flight becomes a false one. Economics is not the focus of this post but, you could argue that one of the (many) reasons that rail is more expensive is because those external costs are, to some degree, accounted for by fuel duties. Aviation does not pay fuel duty. Thus, the true cost of travel is much much closer with rail than aviation.

Opportunity for emissions reduction?

The thing that ties my research findings and Cox’s comments is the opportunity. People want to see distant places and Cox has identified an achievable way to do that for people in the UK. And, in my study, most people wanted to do something for the environment, but were not willing to sacrifice the opportunity to visit the exotic destination of choice.

So, maybe, there is the potential for travel opportunities to become a means of reducing emissions – if you couple purposes of journeys together.

So, Cox has now had a great time in Berlin and got home to Essex, combining work travel with leisure travel. Maybe, that means he will not be going to Berlin for a weekend trip next month, saving pennies, and a bit of carbon too.

Perhaps, somebody could give me a job which guarantees that I will need to be on the other side of the world in six months time but not require me to work in any other location until then. I could remotely access my work while doing a round the world gap year. And, all travel costs can be on expenses. If anybody, has this job opportunity, do get in touch…

Davos 2016: A sustainable transport summary


Solar Impulse.png
Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg talk about Solar Impulse at the World Economic Forum (source: WEF)

The first post-Paris major meeting of world leaders took place at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos last week. The theme was ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’, suggesting an imminent switch to novel unfathomable technologies throughout society. So, I wanted to know what was discussed in terms of the future of transport. Here is what I found.

Where was climate change?

Firstly, the interesting thing to note is that all things climate change was way down the agenda. Key discussion points included extremism, the future of Europe, immigration and how to gain parity for women in the 21st century. Maybe everyone is still feeling hungover from the COP21 party or maybe a conscious effort has been made to cover issues concerning right now in 2016. I’d suggest a mix. Looking at the WEF Global Risks Report 2016, we can see that, the latter is indeed pertinent. While climate and environmental risks top the list, they are not as immediately pressing as others.

(source: WEF)

Oil for transport

With oil at $31 a barrel and booming supply leading to an expectation of the price to stay well below $50 a barrel throughout 2016, what does this mean for transport and climate policy? A debate mediated by Financial Times economist, Martin Wolf, entitled ‘Fossil Fuel Futures’ gave a couple of opinions.

Ken Hersh, CEO, Energy Capital Management, remained very conservative about any ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ in the energy sector. He sees a future that remains dominated by fossil fuels because of supply and demand: “at the end of the day, cost matters.”

On transport demand, Hersh highlighted the expectation of a billion more cars on the planet and the unchanging consumer behaviour surrounding cheap fuel. “If you give Americans an extra dollar a gallon, we know exactly what to do with it. We buy an SUV and we go out for dinner.”

Speaking on the same panel, Christiana Figueres, General Secretary, UNFCCC, as one may expect, saw things a little differently. Renewable energy was the only solution outlined explicitly in the 31 pages of the Paris Agreement text, so transition away from fossil fuels is something Figueres recognises and invests her energy in.

Figueres acknowledged the lack of progress within transport fuel but offered three factors that are changing the mobility industry and beginning to put pressure on transport oil investment:

  1. ‘Uberisation’ and the development of the shared economy
  2. Electric vehicles technology
  3. Self-driving/autonomous vehicles technology

Figueres and Hersh’s contributions point to the influence of behaviour towards cars in the future. How will the opportunities of cheaper, or even free, fuel in the future be capitalised? Will people opt to sacrifice car ownership in favour of a more efficient and cheaper alternative mobility model? Or will we experience a world of rebound effects of increased car ownership and mileage?

The solar aviation showcase

The picture at the start of this blog shows the two pioneers of solar flight discussing their ambitious, and amazingly successful, Solar Impulse project. Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg are the pilot adventurers who founded the project that is currently attempting to circumnavigate the globe without any fuel.

Introduced by Al Gore, the pair were keen to use their achievements to highlight the necessity to break away from the paradigm and ignore the word impossible.

“Without fuel we can do better than with fuel,” Piccard said. He was keen to show just how important it was to move away from the inert transport technology of today. “Combustion engines lose 73% of their energy” Piccard explained, a figure which is embarrassing compared to what the Solar Impulse achieves: “the engines of our airplane have 97% efficiency.”

The most fascinating aspect for me is that of the ability to fly at night, when there is no solar input, is something necessary if you are going to fly from Japan to Hawaii. Energy storage is the key to unlocking mass investment in electric vehicles, making this project all the more important for the future of transport.

Fabius aims for ships and planes

During a session called ‘The New Climate and Development Imperative’, a number of key representatives of business, civil society and global governance, reunited to maintain and harness the momentum gathered at COP21 in Paris last month.

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Laurent Fabius speaking at WEF (source: WEF)

French foreign minister, and celebrated President of the COP, Laurent Fabius, spoke eloquently on the next steps for climate action. Thorough as he is, he was quick to hone in on the two transport sectors unaccounted for.

“We have to work on two sectors outside of the Paris Agreement. Airplane transportation and maritime transportation which are emitting a lot of greenhouse gases and are not included in Paris Agreement for a number of reasons,” Fabius explained.

“Now we have to deliver.”

To infinity, with caution

Finally, I would like to mention one of the Open Forum sessions at the WEF that was looking at what the next couple of decades might hold for us. ‘Life in 2030: Humankind and the Machine’ hosted a diverse panel gave their opinions on the future of technology.

Eric Anderson, co-founder of Space Adventures, believes low cost commercial space travel will be with us by 2030: “We will become a multi-planetary species. The first thing we will do is turn ice on asteroids into fuel. Fuel is what lets you get around and essentially we will create the gas stations in space. To bring that cost way way way down.”

Other innovations discussed were rather more earth-bound, yet, no less radical. The panellists appeared to agree a key catalyst for the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ would be the development and transparency of big data. But providing the appropriate legal and policy regimes to support this was equally fundamental.

Andrew W. Moore, Dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, highlighted huge moral dilemmas in the development of transport safety technology: “Maybe we dream of getting deaths down by a factor of 10, but writing the software, everything has to be written down. Do I protect the driver or do I protect the mother and child that are in front of that car.

“That is really hard. We as computer scientists do not want to write that code. But we also feel we have a responsibility to.”

All very thought-provoking from a low carbon travel perspective. If Anderson teamed up with Solar Impulse, could space travel become, not only a reality, but solar-powered? Surely, there is plenty of sunshine out there to harness. And, of Moore’s smart crash avoidance, what dilemmas would the coding of, say, autonomous fuel efficiency programmes lead to?