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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Abhinav Soman


The transport sector in the UK is responsible for 26% of the total emissions and is the largest emitting sector in the country. Meeting UK’s ambitious 2050 targets of overall 80% reduction in emissions under the climate change act 2008, will require emissions from the transport sector to be cut down by 44% between 2015 and 2030 according to the committee on climate change (CCC). To achieve this, the government has formulated policies to promote electric vehicle, biofuel use, improve fuel efficiency and behavior change.

The CCC has estimated that anywhere between 3-10% car-km could be reduced through modal shift in response to behavior change measures. The behavioral change interventions in UK to date have mainly focused on travel planning and information provision and have seldom employed insights from behavioral economics. ‘Nudging’ is a relatively new way to influence sustainable behavior by acknowledging and attempting to overcome the inherent cognitive biases in human beings. Globally, there have been limited empirical studies testing the benefits of employing such measures for transport behavior change. This study attempted to address this gap by designing a nudge based on the MINDSPACE framework and the Department of Transport’s Behavioural Insights Toolkit and testing its ability to influence uptake of public transport by means of an online experiment involving UK citizens. The results indicated that the intervention was able to increase preference for public transport under experimental conditions.

To understand the feasibility of implementing such an intervention packaged as part of a ‘Participatory Carbon Abatement’ scheme, focus group discussion and semi-structured interviews were carried out with relevant stakeholders. The analysis of their views suggested that the policy as formulated in this study was too complex and its framing as a climate change problem may not be effective. However, the fundamental mechanism of the intervention was found to be promising and alternative ideas to simplify and increase the efficacy of the nudge were gleaned from these discussions, offering insights for future development of such an intervention.