Image: Kara / AdobeStock

Image: Kara / AdobeStock

The governance of radical mobility change


Transport remains the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK, accounting for 34 per cent of total emissions. Despite some advances in other sectors of the economy in the last thirty years, total transport emissions have barely changed.

One of the reason for this delay is also the complex ways in which transport is governed in the UK, which creates particular challenges for efforts to reduce transport carbon emissions in the rapid manner which climate science dictates. Responsibility for transport ranges across a complex array of transport authorities, from local government, city region transport authorities, sub-national transport bodies, devolved national administrations, UK national government, and national agencies. Each has different powers over different modes of transport. At the same time, some organisations within each level of governance have sought to set their own carbon reduction targets, although not always specifically for the transport sector. In some cases, given the slow pace of change in reducing carbon emissions, and recognising that the social impacts of decarbonisation are complex and challenging, some local and regional authorities have engaged with grassroots movements campaigning for carbon emissions reduction. These grassroots movements have achieved various levels of success in influencing policy and practice. Most notably, a growing number of governing bodies have co-created 'citizens' assemblies' with environmental campaigners, which meet to discuss a set of policies needed to reach a defined level of carbon emissions reduction in transport.

It is vital for transport policymakers and activists alike that the dynamics of these new processes of governance are better understood. This especially since the COVID-19 crisis has given a new urgency to transport decarbonisation strategies, given the need to maintain social distancing, and reduce air pollution and its population-wide respiratory effects. For example, it is important to know: to what extent has engaging with grassroots movements created transport policies that are more ambitious? And do authorities interacting with grassroots movements in this way have the power over transport necessary to translate the findings of assemblies into effective activity?

Having recognised the importance of creating new insights into how different governance environments influence the accelerated uptake of lower carbon transport policies and practices, this project aims to foster a better understanding of how to overcome the barriers to carbon emission reduction in the transport sector created by the complexity of overlapping governance regimes and differing sensitivities to the politics of climate change mitigation. We seeks to understand the barriers and opportunities presented by different forms and scales of governance to accelerating the transport sector's contribution to the decarbonisation required to keep global heating within safe limits. We will also ask whether the COVID-19 crisis has led to acceleration or delay of transport decarbonisation, and ask what implications, if any, can be drawn.

Specifically, the project will consider the impact that three sets of developments are having on decarbonisation at different governance levels in Leeds, Oxford and Nottingham:

  1. Experimentation in governance: a) citizen assemblies, b) the consultations around the Department for Transport's Decarbonisation Plan;
  2. COVID-19 and the change in priorities and preferences this may have triggered (e.g. uptake of walking and cycling, concerns over public transport), including new national policy direction as the introduction of the Emergency Active Travel Fund;
  3. Grassroots movements around local transport: the formation of publics who engage in various forms of advocacy and activism, ranging from protests to commentary to do-it-yourself/do-it-together infrastructures.

The data collection will be based on semi-structured interviews with organisers and spokespeople of grassroots groups that have attempted to shape transport policy as well as transport officials and other stakeholders, both local and national. The answers collected will be thematically analysed. The result will be published in a series of journal articles.

Further Information

For more information on this research project please contact Dr Ersilia Verlinghieri.

In brief


2021 - 2022




Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds

TSU Principal Investigator

Professor Tim Schwanen

TSU Researchers

Dr Ersilia Verlinghieri


Dr Ersilia Verlinghieri