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Cycling aspects of the Fourth Carbon Budget Review

14th December 2013

The Climate Change Committee produced a report on 11th December 2013, recommending that the government maintain the proposed cuts in the UK's carbon emissions, set by the Fourth Carbon Budget (2023-2027). The report is entitled 'Fourth Carbon Budget Review - part 2, The cost-effective path to the 2050 traget.'

Increased cycling is one of the ways that this will be achieved. Active travel (cycling and walking) are projected to be worth £2bn a year in health benefits, and £8bn a year in reduced congestion.

The Climate Change Committee

The Climate Change Committee is the independent body set up by the Climate Change Act 2008. Their role is to advise the UK government, and the devolved administrations, on reducing greenhouse gases and preparing for climate change. They advise the government on setting and meeting carbon budgets. The Chairman is Lord Deben (better known as Conservative politician John Gummer). The Chief Executive is David Kennedy.

The Fourth Carbon Budget

The Committee produced its recommendations for the Fourth Carbon Budget (the years 2023-2027) in a report in December 2010, with proposals which would lead to a 60% cut in emissions (on the 1990 baseline) by 2030. The budget was then set in June 2011. The graph below shows the budgets:

Carbon budgets graph

The latest report has been produced due to an agreement with the government to review the Fourth Carbon Budget in 2014. The Budget can be changed if there is a significant change in circumstances demonstrated by evidence or analysis. (The review appears to be driven by George Osborne's wish to build more gas power stations, to an extent inconsistent with the Fourth Carbon Budget, rather than by any change in circumstances).

The Climate Change Committee's conclusions and recommendations

The Committee has already produced a report concluding that there have been no significant changes in climate science or EU circumstances. The latest report looks into how the Budget can be met, and the impacts this will have. The Committee says these aspects provide no basis for changing the Fourth Carbon Budget. The costs and competitiveness impacts are small and manageable, according to the report, and there are many benefits, including improved energy security and air quality, and reduced noise pollution. They find a cost saving of £100bn, as compared with delaying action beyond the 2020s. 

The benefits of cutting emissions

The Committee finds that there are benefits from more active lifestyles which '...result from greater levels of cycling and walking, significantly improving human health and wellbeing while also reducing emissions from vehicle transport' (Chapter 4, p.86 of the report). There is also a benefit from 'reduced congestion, as a result of avoided travel by cars and HGVs, [which] could offer a further economic benefit in the form of less wasted time for transport users.' The report says there may be increases in road accidents from more walking and cycling, but this is more than offset by reductions from less traffic.

Health benefits of active travel

The report puts a monetary value on increased active travel. On the basis of doubling the number of active travel (cycling and walking) journeys by 2020, 5% of car journeys would be avoided. (This 5% reduction in car journeys is broadly in line with the aime of the government's Smarter Choices programme). This would contribute to a reduction in diabetes, dementia, depression, heart disease, and some cancers. The monetary value of the health benefits is about £2bn a year. 

The Committee's figures are based on a report they commissioned from AEA Ricardo. On active travel, the Executive Summary of the report says (p.x) that their figures take account of  '...an increase in accidents as a result of a shift to walking and cycling, as cyclists suffer higher accident rates than drivers. It is important to note that this impact can be very significantly reduced, or even turned into a benefit, by investment in safety measures to protect active travellers, especially the provision of safe cycle routes as well as encouraging greater driver awareness.'

Reducing congestion

A modal shift away from cars could lead to reduced congestion, and a benefit of £8bn per year, according to the Committee's report. 

In the body of the AEA Ricardo report, under the sub-heading 'policy implications' (pp43-44), there is this passage:

'As the health benefits of walking and cycling are so great, this is a clear area for policy intervention. The negative accident impacts of walking and cycling are therefore a critical area for policy-makers. However, there is significant potential for the accident impacts to be reduced by investment in safer walking and cycling infrastructure, traffic calming and other measures such as driver training....

The significant co-benefit of avoided congestion costs should provide a further impetus for policy-makers to focus on promoting smarter transport choices, and should justify higher levels of investment in these options. These benefits can be maximised by focusing support measure (such as construction of safe cycle paths) in highly congested areas. It is likely that this would also maximise the opportunity to reduce accident risks.'