Adopting a Whole Systems Approach to Transport Decarbonisation, Air Quality and Health: An Online Participatory Systems Mapping Case Study in the UK

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In a drive to achieve net zero emissions, U.K. transport decarbonisation policies are predominantly focussed on measures to promote the uptake and use of electric vehicles (EVs). This is reflected in the COP26 Transport Declaration signed by 38 national governments, alongside city region governments, vehicle manufacturers and investors. However, emerging evidence suggests that EVs present multiple challenges for air quality, mobility and health, including risks from non-exhaust emissions (NEEs) and increasing reliance on vehicles for short trips. Understanding the interconnected links between electric mobility, human health and the environment, including synergies and trade-offs, requires a whole systems approach to transport policymaking. In the present paper, we describe the use of Participatory Systems Mapping (PSM) in which a diverse group of stakeholders collaboratively constructed a causal model of the U.K. surface transport system through a series of interactive online workshops. We present the map and its analysis, with our findings illustrating how unintended consequences of EV-focussed transport policies may have an impact on air quality, human health and important social functions of the transport system. We conclude by considering how online participatory causal modelling techniques could be effectively integrated with empirical metrics to facilitate effective policy design and appraisal in the transport sector.
Original languageEnglish
Article number492
Number of pages35
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2022


  • Complex systems
  • air pollution
  • decarbonisation
  • systems mapping

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