Unequal Emissions: Wealth Disparities in Britain’s Transport Sector and the Path to Decarbonization

In a recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), stark disparities in transport-related greenhouse gas emissions among different income groups in Britain have been unveiled. The analysis highlights a significant correlation between income levels and transport emissions, underscoring the role of the wealthiest individuals in exacerbating the climate crisis.

The data reveal that the richest 0.1% of the British population emit 12 times more greenhouse gases from transport than the average person and 22 times more than low earners. These findings indicate that a small fraction of the population is responsible for a disproportionate share of transport emissions, with the top 10% of emitters accounting for 42% of all transport-related emissions in the country.

Income and mobility are directly linked, with individuals earning over £100,000 annually travelling at least twice the distance of those earning below £30,000. This increased mobility translates into higher emissions, contributing significantly to the overall carbon footprint of the transport sector.

Additional findings from the report include:

  • Gender Disparities: Men are more likely to be high emitters than women, travelling greater distances by both car and plane.
  • Socioeconomic Inequalities: Residents of deprived neighbourhoods travel less and have lower emissions compared to those from affluent areas.
  • Disability and Travel: People with disabilities travel significantly less, resulting in lower emissions.
  • Ethnic Disparities: Individuals from non-white British ethnic backgrounds travel less and emit fewer greenhouse gases.
  • Age Factors: The highest emissions from private transport are seen in individuals aged 35 to 64.

The UK’s progress in reducing transport emissions over the past three decades has been limited, with the transport sector now being the largest emitter in the country. To address this, the IPPR report recommends several policy measures aimed at decarbonising transport while ensuring fairness and inclusivity in the transition to sustainable mobility.

Key recommendations include:

  1. Taxation: Introducing new taxes on private jets, increasing air passenger duty, and implementing a kerosene tax.
  2. Public Transport Reforms: Lifting the ban on municipal bus fleets, facilitating bus franchising, and enabling local partnerships in running the rail network.
  3. Electric Vehicles: Reinstating the 2030 ban on new internal combustion engine vehicle purchases and aligning the Zero Emission Vehicle mandate accordingly.

Dr. Maya Singer Hobbs, a senior research fellow at IPPR, emphasises the dual objective of reducing emissions and addressing social inequalities: “Our transport system both reflects and contributes to social inequalities. Reducing emissions can actually tackle some of that injustice if done fairly. But while not everyone needs to make the same changes, those who are financially best off need to do the most.”

Stephen Frost, principal research fellow at IPPR, calls for an urgent and equitable approach to achieving net zero: “By putting people at the heart of our approach to reducing Britain’s climate impacts we demonstrate both who is best placed to cut their emissions at the pace needed and how doing so can help tackle the underlying unfairness in who the transport system currently works for. Now is not the time to slow down our efforts to reach net zero, doing so just fuels existing transport inequalities. The next UK government must step up the pace by delivering a credible, fair and people-focused plan for more sustainable travel.”

In conclusion, the IPPR report provides a comprehensive analysis of the inequalities in transport emissions and offers actionable recommendations for policymakers. It underscores the necessity of a fair and inclusive approach to decarbonising the transport sector, ensuring that those with the greatest impact on emissions bear the responsibility for the transition to a sustainable future.