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Switching to electric cars won't solve climate crisis, transport alliance warns

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We cannot put all our faith in electric cars, according to the chair of the Sustainable Transport Alliance. Photo: Reuters
'We cannot put all our faith in electric cars,' said the chair of the Sustainable Transport Alliance. Photo: Reuters

A group of sustainable transport NGOs in the UK have said phasing out petrol and diesel cars alone is not going to help contain climate change.

This comes as the UK government, which is targeting reaching net zero by 2050, said 11 automakers, including Ford (F) and General Motors (GM), will sign a pledge at COP26 to phase out the production of fossil-fuel vehicles globally by 2040, as part of global efforts to slow down global warming. 

According to the Sustainable Transport Alliance, solely focussing on electric vehicles would mean ignoring their social and environmental drawbacks, which includes a potential 51% increase in road traffic in the UK.

The group believes shifting more journeys to existing greener forms of transport has greater benefits.

“The evidence is clear that we cannot put all our faith in electric cars — we need a more fundamental shift in how we get around, and we have much to gain from this,” said Jools Townsend, chair of the Sustainable Transport Alliance.

“By focusing on a shift towards public, shared and community transport, walking and cycling, we can create healthier, happier communities and more equal access to opportunity, without adding to emissions and environmental problems through the manufacture of millions more cars.”

Read more: Six major car makers to phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2040

The group said these changes would be in line with the UK government’s commitments to encourage the use of public transport and make active travel the natural choice, and the Scottish and Welsh governments’ targets to reduce private vehicle use.

Transport is the biggest source of greenhouse emissions in the UK and the fastest rising globally with more than half (55%) of all UK transport emissions coming from cars, the group said.

At an event at COP26, the alliance will discuss measures that could help ensure the UK meets its net zero commitment.

This includes introducing progressively tightening targets to reduce motorised traffic, and ensuring public, shared, community and active travel are attractive and viable alternatives to private car use

Paul Tuohy, CEO of Campaign for Better Transport, said: “Persuading more people to swap at least some journeys from cars to public transport will have immediate benefits for the climate."

"So rather than saying it’s business as usual and technology will save the day, our leaders need to be upfront with people on what each of us needs to do and provide the right investment and infrastructure to enable us to do it.”

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