It's not just the growing cities of China and India that are facing rising levels of city centre smog, pollution and congestion.
Only a few weeks ago, we saw Paris cut car journeys in half by restricting car access to alternate days only. Failure to comply carried a daily fine of 35 euros. The cost of making public transport free was estimated at four million euros a day- so it was quickly shelved as an idea.
Facts: Greenhouse gasses are already causing the climate to warm at more than ten times the rate that ended the ice age.
Human activity has driven CO2 higher than any time in the last 800,000 years.
Temperatures are rising – up 0.8 per cent since 1900 with 2 per cent predicted to have “devastating impacts”. If we do nothing, we are on a trajectory to 4.8 per cent. 20 per cent of emissions are caused by transport.
At a Joint Meeting of the Eurocities Environment and Mobility Forums hosted in Birmingham recently, Sir Albert Bore and Councillor James McKay described Birmingham’s plans for creating a transport vision to deal with rising emissions and congestion caused by vehicle use. I declare an interest- I am a member of Councillor McKay’s Green Commission and our work has helped shape the transport vision.
Birmingham has a target to reduce carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2026. If we do nothing on transport, by 2035 congestion levels will be 85 per cent worse than now. By 2030, Birmingham is predicted to have 500,000 households, compared to 420,000 today and 370,000 in 1991. Unless rising car ownership levels are reduced, there will be 100,000 more cars in the city and 200,000 more daily car trips by 2031.
Time and again, business laments the lack of long-term vision from our politicians.
To their credit, Sir Albert and Coun McKay are positioning Birmingham to lead Europe with a vision for an integrated, sustainable transport vision.
Sustainability matters on pragmatic grounds: The large sums of European structural funds available to help build new transport infrastructure can only be accessed with the sustainability requirement met.
The grubby realities of life now come into play.
In business, we want long-term plans- but we recoil instinctively against short-term changes to behaviour.
The council has voted to impose a 20mph limit across 90 per cent of its roads, beginning in 2015.
Business is worried this will slow down the movement of goods and services.
Existing car users in the main are “against” the idea whilst those who use other travel modes support it.
However, closer scrutiny reveals the average speed on roads to be affected is currently only 24mph and the main arterial roads will have their speeds unaffected (unless they are near schools and hospitals).
The lower speed will be enforced by signage and not engineering i.e. no speed bumps will be built.
Whilst the initiative should reduce road casualties (there were 27 fatalities on Birmingham’s roads last year), we do need to be really clear about the impact on the economy.
We must not hold up road freight, for example. So I am pleased that the council has agreed to work with the Chamber on designing exactly what business impacts we measure so that we can make intelligent decisions about the success or otherwise of the pilots.
It was telling to hear a Eurocities conference delegate from Poland say in halting English that even after improvements for cyclists and walkers are made and better public transport is installed “unless you make driving hell for drivers, they will never get out of their cars!”
We need roads to work for cars as well as for others.
We need businesses to be thinking now about how we create economic growth out of this agenda.
How can we make more money and more jobs?
This has to be the agenda. I am convinced the status quo is not the answer.
* Jerry Blackett is chief executive of the Greater Birmingham Chamber Group