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Fair and Fast Decarbonisation of the Transport Sector: Integrating place into local and regional modelling and assessment tools

Faculty of Environment

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Prof G Marsden No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Leeds United Kingdom Applied Mathematics Civil Engineering Energy Technologies Architecture, Building & Planning Geography Politics & Government Rural Planning

About the Project

This PhD will build new tools to enable local authorities, businesses and citizens understand what the rapid decarbonisation of transport could look like in their areas and, critically, how this can be done fairly and in ways which produce better health and economic outcomes for all.

Shifting from 30 years of no progress in cutting carbon emissions from transport to zero carbon in the next two decades is a major challenge for policy makers, businesses and citizens. Different pathways are open which place different emphasis on demand management, behavioural change and technological adaptation substitution. These strategies will impact places and communities differently and how the transitions are managed will have important equity impacts. However, we do not have the tools necessary to look across transport and energy and to explore the importance of different local contexts. This PhD will develop new ideas to advance the agenda of place-based decarbonisation working in partnership with Arup.

The research will involve close partnership working with sub-national level governments to categorise current practice and to understand the key research gaps which the place-based approach will fill. This builds on the research work of the DecarboN8 network ( in partnership with globally leading consultants Arup. The research starts from an understanding that current decarbonisation strategies have a flat ontology which takes little account of the characteristics of areas (e.g. topography, energy system assets, home ownership, family structures). The PhD candidate will be expected to be numerate and flexible to developing either new or amended approaches to existing modelling tools to generate the insights necessary. 

This opportunity will be well suited to a candidate with a background in Geography, Engineering, Environmental Science or Regional Studies. Applicants with practical experience in addition to a degree are also encouraged to apply. 

There is a well established literature on the options available to decarbonise transport at both city and national scales (Brand et al., 2020; Gota et al., 2020; Creutzig, 2016). These studies focus on the complexity of the interactions between assumptions on how quickly electrification of vehicles will happen, alongside the potential for behavioural shifts and demand reduction and the extent to which actions will meet the carbon budget constraint. The application of this kind of approach is now beginning to flow through into the development of sub-national and local transport strategies (WYCA, 2020; LCC, 2021).

The gap which this study seeks to address is the spatial and social implications of the different choices. Electrification of vehicles, for example, happens over a period of time. Some will adopt early, some will have space for home charging and others not, some will be homeowners with rights to install chargers and others not. Those who do not drive will potentially be subject to new charging infrastructures appearing which reduce public space. Will all electricity users pay the costs of grid upgrades for electrification or just drivers? Decarbonisation will not happen evenly across places.

Moving out from the differences within a local authority, one could also consider the differences between local authorities. Analysis (Walker, 2020) shows that some areas have emissions as much as five times higher than other areas. Some places have very thin public transport networks and few apparent alternatives to the car. However, should these places ‘go slower’? If they do, will other places be expected to go faster to compensate? How will the fair allocation of resources be made to deal with these trade-offs and what is the social contract which comes with that? (Marsden et al., 2020a). The research will advance the nascent field of place-based decarbonisation (Marsden et al., 2020b)

Whilst there exists a literature on energy justice (Bouzarovski and Simcock, 2017) and transport justice (Martens, 2016), there are relatively few studies which have focussed on how to manage the equity impacts of the transition which we face (Randal et al., 2020). Even fewer of those have addressed how the policy choices which exist could be altered by equity analysis or what the compensatory public policy mechanisms might be which could address the critical concerns. This is now urgent. The scale of the decarbonisation challenge means that things are getting done. Policy pathways may soon become more fixed and difficult to change. This I-CASE collaboration between the Institute for Transport Studies and Arup has been developed to conduct cutting edge research which can quickly translate into meaningful tools which alter how this transition is managed.

Arup has spent more than 70 years at the forefront of the built environment design and engineering. Throughout our history, research has played a fundamental role in defining how we anticipate and leverage emerging technologies and drivers of change. We test and develop early stage or high risk technologies, methodologies, materials and ideas in real-world applications. The project will support Arup aims to be at the forefront of advising cities, mayors, and elected officials on how to deliver sustainable development, in particular urban spaces of the future through policies, frameworks, visualisation or technologies. The project is aligned with the Decarbonising Transport priority research theme of the Arup UKIMEA Research Strategy and priority research of the Transport Planning Skill Network and Arup City Modelling Lab. Support for the project is provided by the Arup University research team, facilitating linkages with parallel Arup-sponsored research on decarbonising transport, energy and transport systems modelling, measurement of social value, and creativity with data at scale. Arup has strong links with the University of Leeds including an ongoing MoU and numerous past and present collaborations, including related to transport and place-based research and innovation.

The studentship will be hosted by the Institute for Transport Studies. This is the UK’s leading transport research institute and home to many of the most significant research council investments in transport, energy and climate change including DecarboN8, UKERC and CREDS. The Institute is inter-disciplinary by nature and provides a stimulating environment for advanced environmental study. 

Funding Notes

This is an EPSRC I-CASE studentship joint with Arup. The funding is for four years and will provide full tuition fees, a stipend at the UK research council rate (£15,609 for 2021/22) plus a £3,000 top up stipend each year and a research training and support grant. The student will also spend a minimum of three months working in Arup as part of the PhD work programme. Queries about eligibility and application procedures should be dealt with through looking at the pages


Bouzarovski, S. and Simcock, N. (2017) Spatializing Energy Justice, Energy Policy, 107, 640-648
Brand, C., Anable, J., Ketsopolou, I. and Watson, J. (2020) Road to zero or road to nowhere? Disrupting transport and energy in a zero carbon world, Energy Policy, 139, 111134
Creutzig, F., 2016. Evolving narratives of low-carbon futures in transportation. Transport Reviews, 36(3), pp.341-360
Gota, C., Huezinga, C., Peet, K., Medimorec, N. and Bakker, S. (2019) Decarbonising transport to achieve Paris Agreement targets, Energy Efficiency, 12, 363-386
Leeds City Council (2021) Connecting Leeds: Transport Strategy, Draft for Consultation,
WYCA (2020) Tackling the Climate Emergency: Emissions Reduction Pathway Report, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, July,
Marsden, G., Anable, J., Lokesh, K., Walker, R., McCulloch, S. and Jenkinson, K. (2020a) Decarbonising Transport: Getting Carbon Ambition Right, Local Government Association, London,
Marsden, G., Anderson, K., Büscher, M., Densley-Tingley, D., Spurling, N., Sun, H., Thankappan, S., Walker, R., Walker, S. and Whittle, K. (2020b) Place-Based Solutions for Transport Decarbonisation, DecarboN8 Submission to the Department for Transport’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan Consultation,
Martens, K. (2016) Transport Justice: Designing Fair Transportation Systems, Routledge.
Randal, E., Shaw, C., Woodward, A. et al. (2020) Fairness in Transport Policy: A New Approach to Applying Distributive Justice Theories, Sustainability, 12 (23)
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