One of the worst things humanity can do to the planet is to move around on it. In general, unless we walk or cycle, our actions emit carbon in - sometimes literally - eye-watering quantities. Transport is one of the most destructive sectors when it comes to climate change


One of the worst things humanity can do to the planet is to move around on it. In general, unless we walk or cycle, our actions emit carbon in - sometimes literally - eye-watering quantities. Transport is one of the most destructive sectors when it comes to climate change.

That’s the bad news: the good news is that it is one of the most targeted areas for improvement. There is a concerted drive internationally to get petrol and diesel vehicles off the road, with one in four cars in Europe expected to be fully electric within five years.

Sustainable transport is clearly desirable, but it also needs to be workable, practical and efficient. Technology has a huge role to play here in areas such as sensors and imaging.

The forthcoming generation of autonomous vehicles, for example, would not be able to function safely without incorporating hardware that can intelligently analyse and respond to the road conditions and environment around them.

Scotland has an important role to play in this area through CENSIS, an organisation that is one of Scotland’s seven Innovation Centres. Like its counterparts, it works with all sizes of business, public sector bodies and government to support collaborative research and development.

The work of CENSIS in sensors, imaging and the Internet of Things places it firmly at the centre of the climate change agenda. It will be leading a discussion session on climate change and transport at an important one-day conference, Scotland’s Countdown to COP26, being held online next month.

The Herald is partnering with the country’s Innovation Centre network in exploring co-operation on green issues at this event on November 3. It is taking place as part of the lead up to the international COP26 gathering at the SEC in Glasgow next year.

This is set to be the most important international meeting on climate change since the 2015 Paris agreement. It will attract some 30,000 delegates and make Scotland a global centre of attention.

Paul Winstanley, who is CEO of CENSIS, sees Scotland as a potential key player in the move towards global decarbonisation. He believes that the collaborative ethos of the Innovation Centres, working together to advance technology and innovation, provides exactly the sort of pathway needed.


“We have to look at how we can innovate collectively over the next year to achieve substantial impacts in the fight against environmental change,” he adds.  “We need to build a coalition of the willing.”

The CENSIS session on transport at Scotland’s Countdown to COP26 will explore some pioneering green initiatives already taking place north of the border.

“Topics will include a discussion on moving around our urban environments in a much cleaner and environmentally acceptable manner. This will feature George Lowder MBE, who is Chief Executive of Transport for Edinburgh.”

There is also some really interesting work happening at Stagecoach, Paul says, on Project CAV Forth, which involves a globally significant demonstration of UK autonomous bus capability along a 14-mile route across the Forth Road Bridge between Fife and Edinburgh.

“This uses a combination of propulsion and autonomy to achieve environmental savings through fuel efficiency. It could be that you have heavy traffic coming up in half a mile and that needs to be planned for and responded to in a way that doesn’t generate emissions and pollution.”

Another discussion will be centred on Smart Green Shipping, a collaborative industry initiative involving the development of pioneering technology that will automatically calibrate the fastest and most effective sea routes using the power of the wind.

Paul says: “This one is really intriguing. If you look back you will find that Scotland in general and the Clyde in particular have made a huge impact on sea transport. At one point 50 per cent of world cargo was carried on ships built in the Clyde.

“The project has been looking at innovations that already exist outside of shipping and bringing them into this form of transport, with the aim of converting vessels to a combination of wind and hydrogen power.

“There is potentially a route to market for that technology by taking established systems and putting them together in a different and innovative manner. Shipping is currently a significant source of adverse environmental impacts and this provides us with the ability to address those.”

Scotland’s unique topography also offers possibilities for the trialling of electric aircraft. “A performance envelope where the flight from the point of take-off to the point of landing is less than five minutes is well suited for new electric technologies, and we have that here. And we can apply the lessons learned to areas such as ferries and road haulage.”

In every area of transport, he says, transformational change and advancement of the green agenda have to be driven by behaviour and cultural change along with public acceptance.

“But it’s a move we need to make. Factories have decreased their energy consumption over the last 20 years or so, while transport has been stagnant by comparison. So it is quite a challenging area.”

So how does this sector of the economy - currently second only to construction in its carbon emissions - drive positive change?

“A lot of it is about planning and data. It might be quite simple. For instance, a sensor might recognise that people are waiting for a bus in a city centre. It may then be able to dynamically allocate and reprioritise services based on demand.”

Another example of a data collaboration project involving CENSIS that Paul gives relates to electric vehicle (EV) charging. “It’s about identifying which charging locations are available and are connected to infrastructure where there is spare capacity.

“The rollout of EVs is going to place additional demands on our network. It’s not just the accessibility of charging points but also making sure that they have that available resource.

“Again, it’s about behaviour - it’s evident that fuel anxiety for electric vehicles is still way higher than for a conventional petrol or diesel powered car.”

Interestingly, Paul believes that a recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to think about green issues. “The outbreak has been dreadful, but we have seen some improvements in our climate as a result.

“It has created opportunities and we should look to capitalise on them. Covid-19 has demonstrated that there are new ways of working, and those ways have been validated by actual experience.”

He has, he says, been staggered by the amount of interest being shown in the Countdown to COP26 online event. “The Innovation Centres and others are collaborating to an extent that is unprecedented.

“We’ve never done this before. We’re pioneering here, but people are really committed to this conference and that’s something I’m delighted about.”


Conference aims to drive discussion and deliver positive environmental change

Moving people and products from points A to B in a quick, efficient, and sustainable way has been one of the biggest challenges of the modern age. In 2017, figures from the European Union showed that more than one-quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions from EU-28 countries came from the transport sector.

The UK is no different. Earlier this year the UK Government’s Decarbonising Transport consultation set out the challenge ahead of us, underlining the 28% of domestic emissions transport accounted for in 2018. A strategy from the Department for Transport on the back of the consultation is due this Autumn.

There are, however, a variety of globally significant initiatives already underway to help reduce the environmental impact of transportation – with Scottish companies, public services, and researchers leading the way on many of them.

These projects, along with the pressing need to reduce transport’s overall contribution to emissions, will be among a series of topics discussed by experts across sessions organised by CENSIS – Scotland’s centre of excellence for sensing, imaging systems, and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies – at Scotland’s Countdown to COP26 virtual conference on Tuesday, November 3. 

Paul Winstanley, CEO of CENSIS, said: “The transport sector has historically been one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions in the world – from aviation and shipping to road transport, and everything in between. However, that does not necessarily need to remain the case and, at Scotland’s Countdown to COP26, we will highlight some of the ground-breaking projects that point towards a sustainable way forward for transport networks. We hope these sessions will spark discussion, debate, and, most importantly, action about what more can be done to reduce transport’s carbon footprint.”

Among a series of talks and Q&A sessions, attendees will hear from Stagecoach’s Louise Simpson about the progress of Project CAVForth, which is demonstrating the use of autonomous buses on the 14-mile route across the Forth Road Bridge with support from a broad range of organisations.

George Lowder, chief executive of Transport for Edinburgh, will discuss how the city is bringing different methods of transportation together to help its citizens travel seamlessly and sustainably around an urban environment, using trams, buses, and bicycles. 

A panel of experts will also explore how digital technologies, data sharing, and collaborative platforms can improve transport efficiency. Speakers will include Steve Cassidy, co-founder of mobility as a service company Fuse Mobility; Nilofer Christensen from Amsterdam-based electric vehicle navigational tools start-up Chargetrip; and Gayathri Narayanan from IBM, the global technology group.

Di Gilpin, founder and CEO of Smart Green Shipping will discuss how shipping can make its contribution to the fight against climate change by collaboratively developing technically, commercially, and environmentally enhanced systems and technologies.

A panel made up of Beate Kubitz, a future mobility researcher and writer; Greener Journeys CEO, Claire Haigh; and Jenny Milne, a specialist on rural mobility as a service, will discuss the behaviour change required to encourage more people to use public and active transport.

Paul Winstanley added: “Transport is a very broad area – there are many different facets of it that need to work together to drive the fundamental changes necessary to make a positive impact. That’s why we are bringing together a diverse array of experts from across the UK and Europe to take part in the discussion and share their experiences and expertise.

“One of the very few positives to emerge from the tragedy of Covid-19 has been the better environmental conditions that have come about from industrial economies going into lockdown. It is up to us to seize that momentum and turn it into an opportunity to make a permanent, positive difference that will help tackle climate change and our relationship with the planet.

“Scotland’s Countdown to COP26 marks the first step in the journey, starting the conversations and collaborations that will turn into action. With a year to go until the eyes of the world will be on us as Scotland hosts the UN climate change conference, COP26, it has never been more important to focus on the contribution we can make to solving the biggest challenge of our time.”

  • To join the conversation, register for Scotland’s Countdown to COP26 conference at: The event takes place on Tuesday, 3 November, is free to attend, and will be accessible online.