The richest 0.1% of people in Britain are responsible for 22 times more greenhouse gas emissions from transport than low earners and 12 times more than the average, according to a new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

The Moving Together: A People-focussed Pathway to Fairer and Greener Transport report outlines that half of all transport emissions in Britain come from just one in five people and that the worst polluting 10% of the population is responsible for 42% of all transport emissions.

Published today (29 May), it comes against a backdrop of soaring temperatures and an increased regularity of catastrophic weather events that are being driven by climate change. These not only pose economic threats but a threat to human life.

Maya Singer Hobbs, senior research fellow at IPPR and one of the authors of the report said: Our transport system both reflects and contributes to social inequalities. Reducing emissions can actually tackle some of that injustice if done fairly. But, while not everyone needs to make the same changes, those who are financially best off need to do the most.”

UK transport emissions recommendations

In the UK, a significant part of the emissions causing global warming comes from the transport sector. While there is an onus on big business to affect change, the IPPR report shines a light on the disproportionately polluting transport use of the wealthy.

The use of private jets, for example, is estimated to be five to 14 times more polluting per passenger than of commercial flights, and the report has recommended new taxes on their use.

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It has made other recommendations for how the UK government can change policy to ensure a more equitable approach to transport emissions too. These include improving public transport, boosting active travel, speeding up the transition to electric vehicles, lifting the ban on municipal bus fleets and reinstating the 2030 ban on the purchase of new internal combustion engine vehicles.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delayed the 2030 ban on emission-heavy vehicles in September last year and has rowed back on other climate commitments.

Taxation, public transport and equitable emissions

Singer Hobbs explained to Airport Technology how the government’s Jet Zero strategy relies heavily on “unproven” technologies such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel alongside carbon offsetting which does not reliably offset the amount advertised.

She added that the strategy also leans on other transport modes to reduce emissions instead of focussing on aviation emission reductions specifically, which results in “effectively letting aviation off the hook”.

Explaining how effective taxation could be in tackling private jet emissions, Singer Hobbs said: “Taxing private jets isn’t just about changing behaviour. It also reflects the environmental cost of such flights and sends a strong signal that the burden of change should fall on those who have the resources to do more.”

She noted that the revenue raised from such a taxation scheme could be invested into the UK’s public transport system to make it more equitable and sustainable.

The IPPR’s report highlighted how increasing the use of local public transport is an essential part of work to reduce emissions.

“This will require greater integration between bus, rail, road and active travel networks, alongside reform of fares and ticketing, all of which will require local leadership to shape the future of local transport networks,” explained Singer Hobbs.

“People on high incomes, or with existing wealth, should be expected to draw on their significant resources to make these changes – such as paying to change their vehicles, or paying higher taxes for polluting behaviours,” commented Singer Hobbs.

She also noted that the need and opportunity for changing travel behaviours are not evenly distributed across society.

“Our research has found a clear message from the public that those with the means to act should do more,” she said. “Government policy should be designed with this in mind. In practice, this means better support for those on low incomes, as well as expecting more from those on high ones.”