Chris Stark is the Chief Executive of the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC), the independent authority on tackling climate change under the UK’s Climate Change Act. Chris leads a team of analysts and specialists, offering expert insight into the challenges of reducing UK emissions and adapting to the changing climate.
Chris led the CCC’s work to recommend a ‘Net Zero’ target for the UK – and has since directed detailed analysis and advice on the UK’s path to carbon neutrality. He speaks regularly on the transition to a zero-carbon economy and the need to confront climate change with urgency.
Talk title TBC.
The lecture will be held on campus (venue TBC) with a drinks reception. The event will be livestreamed, with a recording available after the event. Register for the event on Eventbrite.
The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered far-reaching changes in working practices, with a large fraction of the UK population now working from home for several days a week. Despite the removal of lockdown restrictions, UK travel patterns have been slow to return to pre-pandemic levels and teleworking has become an established feature of many professions. This creates the possibility of a long-term reduction in commuter traffic, together with the associated fuel use and carbon emissions.
However, previous research has shown that the ability to work from home may encourage people to move farther from their place of work – a phenomenon labelled ‘tele-sprawl’. If so, the travel savings from fewer commutes could be offset by longer commutes on the days that people work in the office. In addition, working from home may encourage people to take additional trips for other purposes – such as shopping or visiting cafés – which may further erode the potential travel and carbon savings. Teleworking may also influence the travel patterns of other household members – for example, by enabling them to use the household car during the day. These complex interactions make the long-term impact of teleworking difficult to predict.
In our newly published study, we used data from the National Travel Survey (NTS) to estimate the impact of teleworking on English travel patterns over the 15 years prior to the pandemic (2005 to 2019). We compared the weekly travel patterns of teleworkers with those of non-teleworkers over this period, while controlling for variables such as professional occupation and household income. Teleworking was relatively uncommon in our sample, with only 1.3% working from home for 3 or more days a week (‘high-frequency teleworkers’), and 4.7% working from home once or twice a week (‘medium-frequency teleworkers’).
Our results provide little support for the claim that teleworking reduces travel. First, we found that the majority of teleworkers travelled farther each week than non-teleworkers. This is partly because teleworkers lived further from their workplace than non-teleworkers, and partly because they took more trips for other purposes. However, there was a ‘tipping point’: people who worked from home three or more times a week travelled ~7% lessfar each week than non-teleworkers.
Second, we found that the weekly travel distance of all household members combined was greater in households where one member was teleworking. This suggests that teleworking by one member of a household encourages or enables additional travel by other members of the household. Whilst we cannot pinpoint the precise mechanisms, their net effect is to erode the travel savings from avoided commutes.
Third, we found that the majority of teleworkers travelled farther for business each week than non-teleworkers, thereby amplifying the difference in travel patterns between the two groups.
While high-frequency teleworking was associated with marginally less private travel, the aggregate savings were small and were not significant at the level of household as a whole. Moreover, those savings were more than offset by additional travel by the larger group of medium-frequency teleworkers. This suggests that, prior to the pandemic; teleworking made little or no contribution to reducing travel demand in England.
However, the patterns observed in the past may not be a good guide to the future. The pandemic has led to such a dramatic change in working practices that longer-term reductions in commuting travel appear possible. A much larger group of people now work from home most or all of the time, and many of these may continue to do so in the future. These ‘new teleworkers’ are more diverse in terms of their socio-economic and demographic characteristics, are more likely to telework three or more times a week. In these circumstances, we may expect larger savings in commuter and total travel. The new teleworkers may take more non-work trips, but the environmental impacts of those trips will depend upon the choice of transport mode and the average distance travelled.
A key lesson from our study, therefore, is theneed to discourage tele-sprawl. Policy should discourage people from moving to areas of low population density that are far from their workplace; far from retail, leisure and other destinations and poorly served by public transport.
Unfortunately, there are early signs of trends in the opposite direction. For example, the Resolution Foundation found that house prices in the least-populated local authorities have increased by more than 10% since February 2020, compared to only 6% in the most populated. In addition, while the pandemic has encouraged more walking, the use of public transport remains well below pre-pandemic levels.
Carbon savings from teleworking are therefore contingent upon broader progress in sustainable transport policy and land use planning. The key is to encourage the growth of high-density, mixed-use neighbourhoods where work, leisure and other destinations are readily accessible through walking, cycling and public transport. This will help to maximise the carbon savings from teleworking, whilst at the same time improving quality of life and facilitating the broader transition to a sustainable economy.
The Energy Security Strategy misses an opportunity for deep energy demand reduction
The UK announced its long-awaited Energy Security Strategy today. As expected, it outlines major energy supply related options: more nuclear power, more fracking exploration, developing hydrogen, and expanding on renewable energy generation. The Strategy’s focus is on fixing energy supply, but committing the UK to options like nuclear and more fossil fuel exploration will lock us into expensive and polluting options for years to come. Given the urgency, it is alarming there is very little focus on deep energy demand reduction.
It is perhaps a good time to remember the 1975 Save it and 1986 “Get more for your Monergy” energy saving campaigns in the UK. In the 1970s the oil crisis saw concerns about prices and energy waste. 1986 was even titled the “Energy Efficiency Year”[i]. The world is struggling again and the current energy crisis needs a mixture of measures to deal with this. Addressing energy consumption and speeding up those solutions which we already have at hand is the most sensible way forward. We can start by insulating every home in the UK first, and switching to renewable heating like heat pumps. This would reduce reliance on gas and reduce emissions, and more importantly help those who now have to choose between heating and eating due to energy price hikes.
We have the methods to fix our leaky and cold homes, and now is the time to finally take action (an option like hydrogen for home heating is a very distant option, if even that). A national home energy demand reduction programme, coupled with a national energy demand reduction campaign, should be an essential part in fixing the energy crisis. We know that the more ambitious energy efficiency programmes of the 2000s have had an impact on energy use in homes, which peaked at the end of the decade and has declined ever since. That’s why the government needs to reverse the collapse in investment in insulation and other efficiency measures. Carbon Brief estimates that cuts to programmes since 2013 have effectively added £808 million onto total household energy bills.
Finally, this is an Energy Security Strategy. Where is climate change in the content? In case the government was too busy exploring North Sea oil and gas options, the latest IPCC report also came out earlier in the week. It makes sombre reading, showing that we have no time left to keep average temperature rise to 1.5 Degrees. More fossil fuels now will not help fix the climate crisis – quite the opposite. But rapid and deep energy demand reduction might just about help us avoid the worst of it, whilst also helping to improve energy security.
Last week I gave a seminar as part of the Sussex Energy Group’s seminar series. This was, for me, a Big Deal, because the Sussex Energy Group is a very cool collection of scholars, mostly from the Science Policy Research Unit but also from University of Sussex (the clue is in the name) more broadly.
Attendance was good, the questions were good, it was all okay (I think). This blog post, written out of narcissism disguised as reflexivity/iterativeness, will cover (not briefly enough) the process, the product – though you could watch it here) and the outcomes. The “what would I do differently” question gets a run too.
A couple of months ago I offered to do a seminar on the industrial decarbonisation project that I am a research fellow on. The date of March 8th was pinned down and I made plans to spend some time putting it together, bit by bit so it wouldn’t be a mad rush at the end.
I then of course ignored those plans. Then came the strike (a whole week, and half of a week over the next two weeks). It was all a bit like that odd scene in Monty Python in the Holy Grail where the guards in the room are looking out the window at some guy in the distance charging towards them. He never seems to get any closer, and so they don’t do anything and then – suddenly, impossibly quickly – he is in the room killing them….
And who am I kidding – if it hadn’t been the strike, there’s have been Something Else.
So there is the Six P rule – “Proper Planning Prevents Pretty Poor Performance”
And then, in the real world – or my real world – there’s the Four Ps.
Procrastination (which is more disorganisation and fear than straight-up laziness)
Pivotting away from other important stuff I was doing (trying to get my head around clusters and their internal workings)
Productivity – Initially I thought to write my script and then do the slides. I found that a bit alien, and couldn’t sustain it, so I created the slides, and then the script. Over time I refined the slides, talked it through to myself a couple of times, consolidated some stuff. I thought about throwing the International Women’s Day stuff overboard, but then chose to keep it, and am glad I did
Panic – there wasn’t too much of this. I knew that as long as I didn’t go over time, then then it wouldn’t be a disaster.
You could watch the whole thing here if you wanted.
So, after a nice introduction, there was a tolerably smooth 30 minute talk, which covered a lot of ground. I put in a “questions of clarification” moment about halfway through, but nobody availed themselves, so I ploughed on to the end
There was then about 25 minutes for questions (I absolutely hate those talks where someone says they are going to leave plenty of time for questions and then they keep going and going and there’s only time for two or at most three. I think it’s either rude or cowardly or both. I am sure I’ve been guilty of it in the past, but at least on the 8th I was not).
Some really good questions (which I could have answered more clearly and concisely)
I also got sent two very useful sources, one known and one not.
The Sussex Energy Group Research Showcase in March will focus on two exciting research projects led by the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex . The series will outline IDRIC’s insights on the politics of decarbonisation processes in the UK, and JUSTNORTH’s work on the energy transition and its prospective impact on Artic communities.
You can see the full list of events below, and we hope to see many of you there.
Marc Hudson outlines the University of Sussex IDRIC project looking at the politics of industrial decarbonisation policy in the UK.
This seminar will explain the processual approach they are taking to examine how five overlapping policy domains – climate, energy, industrial strategy, regional strategy, innovation strategy.- came to be spoken of in the same sentence. He will share some initial findings, and offer reflections on how industrial decarbonisation will be shaped by the policy histories and the ongoing mobilisation of political, economic and cultural interests at sub-national, national and international levels.
JUSTNORTH is an EU Horizon 2020 project which investigates the ways in which the multitude of ethical systems that coexist in the Arctic can be used as a critical element for assessing the viability of new economic activities (including energy development) in the region.
Part I will focus on the barriers to the ongoing energy transition:
• “Stranded Assets, Path Dependencies & Carbon Lock-in: Short/Medium/Long Term Implications of Oil & Gas Development in the Russian, Norwegian and U.S. Arctic ” by Anna Badyina and Roman Sidortsov (SPRU) and
• “Corporate Cultures & Geopolitical Aspirations: Exploring Socio-Political Barriers to the Energy Transition in Russia & Norway” by Darren McCauley (Erasmus University of Rotterdam).
This is part two of a two-part seminar series based on the results of JUSTNORTH, an EU Horizon 2020 project.
Part II of the series will focus on the opportunities for the energy transition in the High North, as well as the challenges that come with these opportunities. The following three presentations will comprise the second seminar:
• “Sustainable Digitisation & Resilient Communities: Low Carbon Data Centres in Greenland, Iceland & Norway” by Chukwuka Monyei (SPRU)
• “Renewable and Ethical?: Motivation for Wind Power Resistance in Sápmi & the Norwegian Arctic” Ragnhild Freng Dale (Western Norway Research Institute)
• “Liabilities into Assets—Reviving Post-Industrial Communities Through Repurposing Industrial Infrastructures in the Swedish Arctic” by Anna Badyina (SPRU) and Timothy Scarlett (Michigan Technological University)