Electric vehicles and the environment at COP26 | SaveOnEnergy®

COP26: Electric cars are not the answer

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Travel is a way of life for most people, whether they are traveling to and from work, school, or for leisure. Much focus has been placed on electric vehicles (EVs) as the technology that will help slow climate change. However, according to the experts in this panel at COP26, electric cars are not the sole answer to fixing our climate woes. 

The COP26 panel discussion “People make transport: communities enabling greener travel” examined how transportation needs must be addressed and changed quickly in order to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions. Type of travel, whether it be international or domestic, or urban or rural, requires thinking of different solutions to cut emissions. Here’s what makes travel one of the biggest factors of the energy crisis.  


Why is switching to EVs not enough to help the environment?

Electric vehicles will be part of the transportation revolution. However, EVs will be a smaller piece of the pie that will also incorporate many other transportation options. Panelist Greg Marsden, Professor of Transport Governance with the University of Leeds, gave these reasons as to why EVs alone will not save the climate:

  • EVs are not getting us to carbon net-zero fast enough.
  • Road congestion is already at an all-time high. More cars would mean more roads need to be built.  
  • Switching billions of existing cars to EVs will take many years. 
  • Electric cars will eventually make driving cheaper, which will lead to more travel, road congestion, and pollution.  

That said, the overall solution will involve several types of transit that will move people away from private car ownership and toward green transportation, such as:

  • Public transport
  • Walking 
  • Cycling 
  • Ride-share
  • E-scooters
  • Cable cars

Getting the community involved

Several of the speakers promoted a people-first approach that would get travelers involved within their communities to create transit solutions. Patrick Harvie, MSP, Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel, and Tenants’ Rights, represented the Scottish Government at this event. He promoted the concept of 20-minute neighborhoods. According to Climate XChange, “‘20 minute neighbourhoods’ are places that are designed so residents can meet their day-to-day needs within a 20 minute walk of their home; through access to safe walking and cycling routes, or by public transport.” 

Martin Dean, Managing Director of Business Development with The Go-Ahead Group, believes branding will be critical in getting communities to imagine an alternate way of traveling and living. He said “authenticity and local branding” will help community members feel like they are part of the solution. People will subsequently want to support their community in a similar manner to the “shop local” marketing strategy. 

Jools Townsend, Chief Executive of Community Rail Network, echoed this sentiment as well. She said that people don’t want to feel restricted. They want to feel in control of their lives and where they can go. 

Speeding up the timeline

Accelerating the timeline for travel alternatives is crucial in the race against climate change. Unfortunately, the historical record on making progress in this area is weak. For example, Greg Marsden said, “we’ve made no reduction in emissions in the transport sector since 1990.” He also stressed, “traveling less is essential.” 

Bernadette Kelly, the UK Permanent Secretary, Department for Transport, also emphasized the need to create short-term as well as long-term goals. Kelly said these goals would be combined with annual objectives and progress updates to keep initiatives on track. Kelly said two of the goals of the UK government are:

  • To have “all new polluting vehicles off the road by 2040.”  
  • That “a half more journeys in towns and cities by 2030 should be either on foot or a bike.”

How will the transport revolution affect rural areas?

The travel habits of people living in rural communities differ from those in urban areas. Therefore, these groups need special consideration to meet their transport needs. 

Townsend said adequate transportation to and from rural areas is also important for another reason. She said it is important for city dwellers to have access to rural areas because that is where many people go for leisure activities and vacations. She envisions mobility hubs that offer several possibilities of transportation types in one place. 


What are the next steps?

The panel concluded that travel solutions must be accessible, equitable, and sustainable. While a speedy transition to transport alternatives is important, Dean also emphasized how smaller changes can make a huge impact. He said, “if only one in 25 car trips were taken by bus, that would take a billion car trips off the road in a year, and that would save two million tons of carbon.”

Encouraging people to change their ingrained methods of transportation will necessitate governments and climate groups to get involved at a community level. And the best way to get people to change their travel habits is by making it fun, making it easy, and giving them options.

Want to learn more about the future of travel? Watch the complete discussion here, or visit our COP26 event page for details on other sessions. 


Lisa Iscrupe is a writer and editor who specializes in energy, the deregulated electricity market, and solar power. Her work has been referenced by CNN, The Daily MBA, The Media Bulletin, and other national sources. Follow her at @lisaiscrupe.