A low-carbon rush-hour

Some British cities are surprisingly better than others when it comes to low-carbon commuting, says Dr James Keirstead of Imperial College London
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The Independent Online

What’s the carbon footprint of your daily commute? That is something our team of researchers from Imperial College London were commissioned by EDF Energy to find out. When we looked at the carbon footprint of commuting, city by city, there were some surprising results.

We know that Londoners have the largest number of gas-guzzlers* – accounting for 48 per cent of London’s vehicles owned by individuals – and they also have the most time-consuming commute, taking an average 35.8 minutes for each rush-hour journey. Yet we calculated that Londoners actually have the lowest rush-hour travel related carbon emissions of any region.

The carbon footprints of commuting do, of course, depend on the available transportation and the distance you have to travel. In London, journeys are relatively short in terms of distance, if not time, so it can be easier to walk or cycle. Also there are more public transport options and driving seems less of an attractive option because of congestion.

As a result, we found that rush-hour journeys by Londoners produce an average 1.35kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) per person per day. In other parts of the UK, that rises to nearly double this to 2.51kg CO2 per person per day.

In the UK, road transport accounts for approximately 24 per cent of total carbon dioxide emissions** so the UK’s commuting habits play an important part in Britain’s response to the global environmental challenge.

That’s why EDF Energy, Britain’s largest producer of low-carbon electricity, commissioned the research. As the first sustainability partner of London 2012, EDF Energy is aiming to use its involvement with the Games to encourage people to live in a more environmentally friendly way before the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012.

The call for Britons to think about the carbon emissions of everyday travel is supported by a number of leading British athletes such as sprint kayak gold medallist Tim Brabants who are ambassadors of Team Green Britain. Team Green Britain is a community founded by EDF Energy to help people to work together to tackle climate change.

Many of us could make changes to daily routines to make a difference to the carbon footprint of our travel. For example, people could see if colleagues who drive to the station would consider car sharing. Those who travel to work by train could continue their journey to work by bike, instead of public transport.

As Gareth Wynn, director of EDF’s London 2012 programme sums it up: “We firmly believe that the take-up of low-carbon transport is crucial to Britain meeting its carbon reduction targets and it is an important part of helping to reduce the country’s carbon emissions.”

Go green. Join Team Green Britain and make yours a low-carbon commute.

* Vehicles tax band J or higher

** DECC - UK Climate Change Sustainable Development Indicator: 2009 Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Final Figures