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Green travel welcomed, but has it arrived late? — Erin McDaid, of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

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Transport accounts for around a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, so any efforts to ‘green’ our transport infrastructure are to be welcomed.

In recent years we’ve seen the massive investment in Nottingham’s tram network and arguably even more welcome, huge investment in cleaner buses on many routes ­— but major upgrades to our rail infrastructure are long over due.

Last week, Midlands Connect, the transport arm of Midlands Engine, which brings together a range of private sector interests, local authorities and universities to influence policy and secure investment and funding across our region, published an updated version of its transport plan ­— Fairer, Greener Stronger.

GREEN TRAVEL has been welcomed by the trust, but questions have been asked on whether or not it has arrived on time to help prevent climate catastrophe?
GREEN TRAVEL has been welcomed by the trust, but questions have been asked on whether or not it has arrived on time to help prevent climate catastrophe?

The strategy contains recommendations relating to all forms of transport, from rail and buses to roads, including electric vehicles. It makes the case that investment is needed to improve rail services, boost mobility for people living in rural areas, future-proof our road network and ensuring that the Midlands is at the forefront of the electric vehicle revolution ­— all laudable objectives ­— though I would argue that we’re still too fixated on roads.

Those behind the strategy clearly want to see huge investment in our region and it is reassuring to see a clear focus on the need to decarbonise our transport system but, as with many strategies and plans, I fear that the overall framing highlights a key issue that continues to hold back the radical changes needed to urgently tackle climate change.

Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) feeding on Cotoneaster berries in supermarket car park. Whitstable, Kent (56059686)
Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) feeding on Cotoneaster berries in supermarket car park. Whitstable, Kent (56059686)

Over the past decade, acceptance of the need to tackle these issues has become much more mainstream. It is at the forefront of government policy and many businesses have started to reduce their carbon footprint. As consumers we are more interested in environmentally sustainable products and many are making changes in our everyday lives to be ‘greener’; but the constant need to justify calls for future investment in terms of the economic growth and employment it will deliver is something of a double edged sword when it comes to triggering truly green investment.

On one hand it has been possible to adopt the language that we know pricks decision maker’s ears. It is quite right to highlight that the development of green technologies and manufacturing can help deliver quality employment and contribute to our economy, but the flipside, the seemingly ubiquitous need to frame demand for investment in terms of economic growth is at best unhelpful and at worst seriously undermines progress towards a greener future.

The latest report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), issued this week, highlights that whilst we still have time to prevent global warming spiralling out of control — the window for action is narrowing at an alarming rate.

Given the massive impact climate change will have on all our lives, lifestyles and the places we cherish if we fail to act quickly, the time has surely come when we can lobby for change purely on the basis that it is the right thing to do for people and planet. While we should, of course, highlight the benefits that decarbonisation will bring, whether in terms of cleaner air, better fuel security, reduced threat from floods and even famine, we should no longer have to justify it by focussing on how it will deliver future ‘growth’.

If we are to truly tackle the impact of climate change at the pace required, we somehow need to move away from the mantra that suggests only economic growth can deliver prosperity and ‘green growth could be considered something of an oxymoron.

While there’s no need for us to go back to the ‘Dark Ages’ as some would claim, to have a sustainable future, to claim everything can remain the same as long as we switch to greener fuels and materials is disingenuous.

As many of us saw during the pandemic, our quality of life isn’t solely defined by the economy or material wealth. Friends, family, good health and connection with nature all help underpin our quality of life, yet the success of our nation and that of many others is still crudely defined in what are now dangerously narrow economic terms.

Whilst it is hard to see clear positives from a pandemic, the massive reduction in transport emission it caused did illustrate the positive potential that measures such as working from home and appreciating our local patch can have on our shared environment.

We all have a role to play in choosing how we travel, where we shop, our choice of holidays and what we buy. With the time running out to take action for the climate in terms of our choices on transport it is very much time for us to quickly shift from talking the talk to walking the walk.

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