Showcasing the research and interests of Dr Gillian Harrison


Over the past few decades, government policies designed to mitigate our impact on climate change through reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have been introduced in increasing numbers. One policy is to decarbonise the UK transport system by 2050, an ambitious target that will impact practically every UK citizen’s accessibility, daily lifestyle and travel decisions. However, the effectiveness of policies and the pathway of technological development are both uncertain and interlinked. To meet carbon reduction targets, a substantial proportion of passenger cars will need a technology switch-over to less carbon intense powertrains and fuels, known as Low Carbon or Alternative Fuel Vehicles (LCVs/AFVs), through a number of policy measures designed to stimulate a market in LCVs targeting both manufacturers on the supply side and the public on the demand side. These technologies and policies could result in issues of distributional justice, unfairly impacting on the worst off and increasing the opportunity gap.

Low Carbon or Alternative Fuel Vehicles can cover a range of technologies. They could still operate with an internal combustion engine (ICE) but fuelled by an alternative, most notably natural gas or biofuel. The alternative powertrain to ICE is the electric motor which can be powered by either an electric battery (BEV) or a hydrogen fuel cell (HFCV). These are also termed Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV). Additionally, we currently have on our road hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), which have both electric motors and ICE, some of which can be plugged in to charge the battery (PiHEV). These options each bring with them a different set of sustainability issues and whole life cycle impacts, but offer great potential in reducing GHG emissions.

Following the recognised conclusions of the IPCC report, it is not controversial to say that we are responsible for contributing towards climate change, and that it will harm a significant number of people across the world, both alive now and future generations. The extent that we can be held accountable is the more disputed ethical debate. Furthermore, if we are held accountable, what should we be the correct way to respond? Climate change poses a number of philosophical challenges as it addresses responsibility, justice, rights and harms. Objection to acting on climate change comes mainly from economic grounds, though there is some discussion on the appropriateness and reliability of applying economic appraisal tools in this context.