Just transition for the transport sector: a discussion paper

This discussion paper is intended to support engagement on a just transition for the transport sector. Building on this engagement, a draft targeted action plan and route map (late 23/24) will outline the key steps to delivering a fair transition for the sector.


This discussion paper is designed to support engagement on a Just Transition Plan for the transport sector. A draft will be published in late 2023/early 2024, providing a targeted action plan and route map outlining the key steps needed to deliver a fair transition in this sector.

As a sector, transport has far-reaching implications for the lives and livelihoods of people in Scotland. It impacts how we access work, education, healthcare and other services, and how both businesses and households access materials and finished goods. The transition to net zero will fundamentally change how we get around in our day-to-day lives. Our future transport system can be more equitable, making sure everyone's needs are met and helping to reduce existing inequalities.

Transport alone makes up the largest source of emissions in Scotland (31% in 2019), with cars producing most of the transport emissions (39% in 2019).[1]

Figure 1 This graph shows the breakdown of transport emissions by mode, drawing attention to the highest proportion of emissions, resulting from cars.

A Transport Just Transition Plan (TJTP) will complement our existing commitments and the vision defined in the National Transport Strategy 2 (NTS2). The NTS2 sets out a vision of a "sustainable, inclusive, safe and accessible transport system, helping deliver a healthier, fairer and more prosperous Scotland for communities, businesses and visitors." This vision is underpinned by four priorities: reducing inequalities, taking climate action, helping to deliver inclusive economic growth, and improving our health and wellbeing.

A TJTP will need to refer to four "key sustainable travel behaviours" (identified in the Scottish Government's 20% reduction in car kilometres route map), aimed at reducing car use:

1. Reducing the need to travel, by making use of sustainable online options;

2. Living well locally, by choosing local destinations or reducing the distances driven;

3. Switching modes to walk, wheel, cycle or public transport where feasible; and

4. Combining trips or sharing journeys with another person if car use remains the only feasible option.[2]

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) estimates that more than 60% of the changes needed to achieve Scotland's net zero target will require at least some element of individual or societal behaviour change. The TJTP will identify actions needed to make these sustainable travel behaviours accessible to people in all parts of society.

State of the sector

The decisions we make about how to tackle climate and nature emergencies need to be fair. Climate action also offers an opportunity to reduce inequalities in our society. As the Just Transition Commission – our expert advisers on just transition – has recommended, we must identify existing sector inequalities and seek to redress these. This should be considered throughout this discussion paper.

Rural, remote and island communities have fewer public transport options and are particularly vulnerable to climate-related disruptions to networks. The cost of transport on the islands and in remote rural areas is much higher, relative to income, than in the rest of Scotland. Journey times are often long and can require multiple interchanges, including an overnight stay, adding further cost. Longer commutes to work combined with more expensive fuel typically adds £30 to £40 per week to costs when compared to rural England.[3] Evidence shows that a greater proportion of people in remote rural and accessible rural areas find accessing services less convenient.[4] We must also bear in mind rural poverty and fuel poverty. We recognise that private car travel (albeit decarbonised) will continue to be a necessary aspect of life in rural and island Scotland to ensure people are able to access the services they need.

At the same time, many of Scotland's most disadvantaged communities are in cities, particularly in suburban areas, and often have long journeys either in length or in time to access employment opportunities. Additionally, car ownership and use reveals an income divide: The Scottish Housing Survey 2019 indicated that nearly 30% of households do not have access to a car or van for private use. This rises to 60% for households on the lowest income. Car access/usage is also lower among women, young and older people, disabled people and those from non-white Scottish/British ethnic groups. Many on lower incomes who own their car may also be forced into "car dependency", because of a lack of transport alternatives.

Affordability of transport is clearly an important issue. However, it is difficult to measure its effects, as individual spending on transport (unlike spending on fuel or food) goes up as incomes rise. The Poverty and Inequality Commission noted that people on low incomes may have to restrict activities, limiting opportunities for work, education, or leisure, due to affordability challenges.[5] Those who feel forced into car ownership still face the fact that Fuel Duty is at present a regressive tax[6] relative to household income.[7] The most direct levers on the cost of buying or running a petrol or diesel car – fuel duty and vehicle excise duty – are reserved to the UK Government, who acknowledged in their Net Zero Review that revenues from existing motoring taxes will decline sharply this decade as we transition away from fossil fuels and the taxes based on them.

Existing impact assessments and monitoring reports, such as the SEQIA for the NTS2 Delivery Plan, Health Inequalities Impact Assessment for the NTS2 Delivery Plan and the 2019 baseline report for the NTS2, give an assessment of existing inequalities within the use of the transport system. The above draws on these documents, but only provides a brief overview of some of the issues affecting transport users.

A fair distribution of the costs and benefits

Distributing the costs and benefits of the transition fairly is a key aspect of a just transition from an individual and business perspective. The individual costs of using transport are not shared evenly throughout society. Lack of access to transport can restrict activities, contributing towards deepening inequalities. A just transition offers the opportunity to lessen these inequalities, in turn ensuring the costs of the transport transition are distributed fairly. This will be considered in fuller detail in the draft Just Transition Plan to understand how this applies to the transport sector and builds on existing policy work.

Recent research in Ecological Economics into household energy footprints and their links to wellbeing has found significant inequalities in the distribution of energy use, with top energy users with high wellbeing driving excess energy use.[8] Using UK-wide data from 2019, the research highlights the unequal distribution of transport energy footprints. The energy used for international flights by the average adult in the top 10% of earners was more than that used across all transport modes by those in the lowest 10% of earners. Whilst this data may be impacted by Heathrow's status as an international transport hub, it still tells us that the more income individuals have, the more energy they use on transport.

Figure 2 This chart shows energy use for transport by income decile, highlighting that the energy use on international flights alone for the highest earners exceeds energy use across transport for lowest earners.

The Just Transition Commission suggested that the Scottish Government develop a set of principles that recognise that segments of the population with high transport carbon footprints would be expected to contribute a greater reduction in transport emissions as part of the transition to net zero. This would be subject to the ability to do so based on just transition considerations, i.e. delivering greater fairness and tackling inequality.

Discussion points

  • What kind of behaviour change principles can Scottish Government develop to encourage a reduction in demand for transport with high carbon footprints, such as frequent flying or regularly driving long distances in petrol or diesel vehicles?
  • What types of material can support such principles, e.g. better information about the impact of car use and flights, and about alternatives available?


Email: justtransition@gov.scot

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