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Electric cars are not a panacea for net zero – we need a change of attitudes and behaviours, not simply a change of furniture

Electric cars are not a panacea for net zero – we need a change of attitudes and behaviours, not simply a change of furniture

The UK Government is putting too much focus on electric vehicles (EVs) and not enough on alternatives, warned the think tank, IPPR, this week.

Their analysis of the Committee on Climate Change’s sixth carbon budget said that current approaches to reaching net-zero could lead to even greater levels of traffic, congestion and pressure on local infrastructure. They forecast an 11% rise in car traffic between 2021 and 2050 and a 28% increase in car ownership, with 10 million more cars on the road by 2050. This would also lead to even more land and street space used for car parking.

Instead, IPPR wants a decarbonisation strategy that encourages greater uptake of walking, cycling and public transport.

That would require not just investment in infrastructure, but a large-scale change in how we think of and use transport. We would need to lose our love-affair with the car.

Changing attitudes and behaviours is perfectly possible – we know it is, we do it – but it requires will and sticking-power, and a long-term commitment to communicating a strong, joined-up message.

If we are to have any hope of reaching net zero by 2030, we need a wholesale change of attitudes and behaviours at every level, led by bold, linked-up and coherent messages from across the board: messages that draw a new line in the sand of what is acceptable, and signal very clearly that things have to change right now.

But we don’t see much of that yet. The Welsh government took a bold step this week by freezing its road-building programme – why isn’t the rest of the UK being similarly courageous and decisive? Where’s the common approach that ties everything together into determined action?

At BetterPoints, we build behaviour change interventions that target active and sustainable transport – but they only work if the will is there to communicate them, and to engage people with them, consistently and persistently. That means joining up local budgets, not operating in silos – and having a strong position, with buy-in across the board, that gives leaders the confidence to make bold moves and withstand the inevitable opposition from a vocal minority.

We will not reach net zero by rearranging the furniture. Making our preferred choice of vehicle electric is not the magic bullet. It’s time to recognise that our cosy status quo really has to change.

But we need strong leadership on this, and we need it in one voice – and we need it now.

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