Beyond Green’s Joanna Yarrow says long-haul flights need to become a once-in-a-lifetime event
With a title like ‘All Change – Future of Travel’, the audience could not be blamed for expectating some serious polarised debate on sustainable transport at the Institute of Civil Engineers’ (ICE) event chaired by Richard Coatley, President of ICE, and Steve Morris from AECOM.
However, the event’s speakers Joanna Yarrow of Beyond Green and Gary Lawrence, Chief Sustainability Officer for AECOM, were very much in agreement about the issues of transport infrastructure and the nature of more sustainable solutions.
Both speakers emphasized that we must learn from the mistakes of the urban sprawl of last century’s new towns and make a modal shift back to walkable medieval precedents, instead of relying solely on innovations in public transport such as high-speed rail.
Yarrow highlighted the negative social impact of excessive car use as described in Ian Roberts’ The Energy Glut, which demonstrates the correlation between increasing BMI and humanity’s motorisation.
Also quoted were UK Committee on Climate Change figures which show that to meet UK carbon targets, low-carbon vehicles will have to make up 60 per cent of new sales in 2030, with all cars and vans on the road going electric by 2050.
In this context, Yarrow questioned whether the ‘under bonnet’ efficiency currently championed by the car industry will be anywhere near enough good enough to achieve the necessary carbon reductions.
From her point of view, a combination of contextual and cultural change are needed. The popular case for behavioural change could be easier to implement if we work towards making sustainable options, such as walking and cycling, more attractive, as in the City of Ghent, this year’s Ashden Award Transport winner.
Although, initiatives such as Sustrans’ Travel Smart go some way to raise awareness of options available to residents locally, a clear theme of the event was that town planning needs to build-in reductions in travel, by increasing community access to services, for example having a five-minute walk radius rule for planning local amenities instead of the urban sprawl that necessitates car use.
As the debate developed, it was clear that a serious change in attitudes to aviation, especially in the business world, is needed. Yarrow stated that proper carbon pricing such as aviation fuel tax is vital to change society’s relaxed attitude towards plane travel, saying long-haul flights ‘need to become a once or twice-in-a-lifetime event’.
While it is true that modern technology and video conferencing enhances global connectivity, there was a clear feeling in the room that this isn’t really a fair replacement for face-to-face interaction. Gary Lawrence interrogated the issue further, highlighting the massive carbon emissions of producing the hardware required to support a burgeoning online community.
There was a palpable feeling in the post-debate discussions that the fundamental value of the city is keeping us all connected, minimising the need for car travel, and that the future of sustainable travel lies in the onerous task of drastically changing society’s relationship with air travel and designing-out urban sprawl.