Environment

England needs a national traffic reduction target, campaigners say

Cars make up the majority of the UK's emissions.

car park full of cars

There are over 30 million cars in the UK. (Image: Ryan Searle/Unsplash)

A national traffic reduction target to combat air pollution and the climate crisis is sorely needed, a campaigner for climate charity Possible has said.

There are over 30 million cars in the UK, and transport is the biggest driver of carbon emissions compared to any other industry. The majority of those emissions come from road vehicles such as cars or vans.

Hirra Khan Adeogun, head of the car free cities campaign at Possible, told the Big Issue: “It would be transformative to have a national target for traffic reduction. London already has one, Scotland has one, Wales has one too. But, we’re hearing nothing from the national government yet in terms of putting one in place for England.”

London is aiming to reduce 27 per cent of its traffic by 2030, while Scotland is aiming to reduce car use by 20 per cent by 2030. 

Wales’ target is even more ambitious, aiming to cut car journeys in half by 2030 and to make 45 per cent of journeys across Wales  by sustainable transport by 2045.

“I don’t think the government is being honest with the population in terms of what measures need to be taken to combat climate change at this stage,” Adeogun said.

It’s not only Possible who believe targets to reduce traffic are necessary. A report published by Greener Transport Solutions – a non-profit organisation dedicated to decarbonising transport – in 2022 found that achieving the UK’s net zero targets will require a reduction in the number of miles driven by at least 25 per cent.

Climate campaigners Green Alliance agreed, previously releasing a report stating the UK “cannot achieve transport emissions targets with the move to electric vehicles alone” and that “efforts must be made to cut the number of car journeys” across the country in its Decarbonising Transport project.

It added: “Traffic reduction measures would improve air quality and reduce congestion.”

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According to Green Alliance, traffic congestion cost the UK nearly £8 billion in 2018, equivalent to two-thirds of the average monthly salary per driver, while £2.5 billion could be saved by switching just 1.7 per cent of all car journeys to active travel like cycling and walking, which would decrease the risk of health problems that could put strain on the NHS or take previously healthy people out of the wider workforce.

Additionally, around 36,000 people in the UK die prematurely from conditions linked to air pollution. A reduction in driving and the pollution emitted from cars could save lives.

Adeogun said a traffic reduction target would be one practical way of moving the UK forward towards a car-free future – though that does not mean there won’t be any cars at all: “When we say car-free, what we mean is a city that is free of the dangers, emissions, and pollution that comes from being reliant on cars.”

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Adeogun said road user charging and an overhaul in the way driving is taxed, similar to measures taken in London such as the congestion charge or the ULEZ, is also needed. She argued that the money raised from taxation should be reinvested into public transport, cycle lanes, and more greenery and walking space.

Adeogun believes that policy makers need to de-incentivise people from driving while simultaneously incentivising them to use other, more sustainable, ways of getting around.

“It’s not just taking money away from drivers, it’s also about giving something back,” she said.

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