Transport and climate change

Tyndall Manchester’s energy research portfolio has explicitly emphasised that transport is as important to research in relation to climate change as electricity and heat. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from domestic, freight, private and public transport, with its heavy reliance on oil and related infrastructure is difficult enough. Couple this with the significant challenges of decarbonising rapidly growing international transport, where global bodies are charged with encouraging emission reduction, and the very long lifetimes of existing fleets, Tyndall Manchester’s interdisciplinary research team becomes well placed to tackle transport mitigation.

Sustainable solutions

Sustainable solutions to reducing emissions from transport must be sought from technological, operational and behavioural measures. Expertise across Tyndall Manchester’s transport activity ranges from the physical sciences and engineering to philosophy and the social sciences, all brought together to explore, understand and seek solutions for the challenges at hand.


  • In-depth research activity on aviation has been ongoing for sometime with funding sources including EPSRC, NERC and ESRC and the Joule Center. More recently, the team has developed expertise on land-based transport funded primarily through the University of Manchester’s Alumni fund, and shipping through both the EPSRC and the Sustainable Consumption Institute.

     Back in 2004 Tyndall Research highlighted the policy clash between growth in aviation and the UK’s decarbonisation targets. In the UK CO2 emissions from aviation rose by 220% from 1990 to 2006, strongly coupled with traffic growth in this sector.

     Future projections by Tyndall and others suggest emissions from this sector will continue to increase without step changes in technology and matched demand measures. Since 2004, research in this area has been developed at Tyndall to explore both the scale of the challenge faced by this sector in decarbonising and the potential mechanisms that can be implemented to support its efforts. 

    Behavioural practices and institutional arrangements 

    For example, Randles and Mander examined the behavioural practices and institutional arrangements which have contributed to the growth in aviation observed in the last decades, while Bleda has examined the economic analyses of the sector’s contribution to the UK economy. Scenario analysis carried out by Bows et al. has demonstrated the role that technology and low carbon fuels can play in helping the sector deliver its contribution to the UK’s emission reduction targets and work by Wood et al. has explored the role of sub-national governance in supporting the sector’s decarbonisation efforts.

    The portfolio of research methods and approaches used by researchers at Tyndall Manchester on aviation offers a wide expertise base in this area.

  • It has been estimated that over 90% of global trade is undertaken by transoceanic transport, which demonstrated a three fold increase between 1970 and 2000. It has been estimated that the total Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with oceangoing shipping account for 2.7% of global anthropogenic emissions.

    At present, the regulation of shipping is complicated by the number of actors (both global and national) involved. Research undertaken by the Tyndall Centre is investigating the wider implications of this in relation to greenhouse gas emissions.

    The EPSRC funded “High Seas” project examined the difficulties associated with the apportioning of shipping emissions amongst different countries. This is detailed in a report which demonstrates how by adopting different (and equally valid) apportionment regimes, the carbon emissions associated with UK shipping may be up to 6 times greater than the current estimates based on bunker fuel sales.

  • Road transport is responsible for 92% of UK domestic transport emissions (around 65% of all transport emissions if the UK's international shipping and aviation is accounted for); around two-thirds of road emissions coming from passenger cars. Previous research at Tyndall Manchester highlighted that although a wide variety of technology-based mitigation options is applicable to the road transport sector, the vehicle and fuel efficiency improvements of recent decades have been outstripped by steady historical growth in demand for passenger and vehicle kilometres. 

    The oft-cited strong link between personal mobility and economic prosperity means that total emissions from road transport are on an upward curve, with passenger car emissions only recently stabilising despite a 20% improvement in average new car fuel efficiency in the last ten years.

    UK decarbonisation pathway

    Work at Tyndall Manchester sponsored by the University of Manchester alumni fund looks at how emissions from passenger cars could be reduced in keeping with a UK decarbonisation pathway based on avoiding 2°C warming. Such a pathway requires a dramatic reduction in sectoral emissions with immediate effect, but whereas ‘revolutions’ in automotive technology such as electric and hydrogen-fuelled vehicles are expected to contribute significant abatement opportunities from the mid-2020s, they have very limited potential in the short term.

    Potential for emissions savings

    Current Tyndall research focuses on the potential for emissions savings in the near term through a combination of more stringent vehicle efficiency improvements and changes in personal travel behaviour through demand management. Developing a clear picture of the extent to which short term emissions savings must come from demand reduction is especially important for passenger road transport, because technology-based solutions alone cannot deliver sufficient savings in time.

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