October 2021

Joscelyn Terrell: Travelling to net-zero

Joscelyn Terrell is Head of Stakeholder Engagement, International and Briefing at the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles

With almost a fifth of the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions coming from cars and vans, a transition to zero-emission vehicles is high on the climate agenda.

Joscelyn Terrell (MEnv Environmental Science 2016) is Head of Stakeholder Engagement, International and Briefing at the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles. She’s working at the forefront of government policy in decarbonising transport, helping to set the UK as a world leader in the field.  

We caught up with Joscelyn to find out about her role in helping to fight the climate crisis, the realities of electric cars, and what COP26 means to her. 

Thanks for joining us, Joscelyn. Let’s go back to the start. How did studying at Leeds help you enter a career in climate action? 

Growing up I always had a passion for nature and the environment, so undertaking a degree in environmental science felt like the logical step. I hadn’t considered a career in policy though, not until I took Dr Jen Dyer’s Politics and Policy module at Leeds, which is where my interest in effecting positive change through policy began.  

Environmental science was the perfect degree to gain an understanding of the broad range of environmental issues and the impact of climate change. 

"One of the key parts of my role is to exchange lessons learnt in the UK with my counterparts in governments around the world – climate change is a global issue.”

Joscelyn Terrell (Environmental Science 2016)

Tell us about your work at the Department for Transport. How are you helping to tackle the climate crisis? 

Almost a fifth of the UK’s total domestic greenhouse gas emissions come from cars and vans. That makes transitioning to zero emission vehicles at tailpipe essential to reaching net-zero by 2050.  

When I joined the Office for Low Emission Vehicles the UK had just committed to end the sale of new conventional cars and vans by 2040. Since then, the decarbonisation agenda has accelerated, and we are now the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles. Our phase out dates have been brought forward to 2030 and we've strengthened commitments for all new cars and vans to be 100% zero emission by 2035. 

 I am the policy lead for the UK’s membership of the International Zero Emission Vehicle Alliance, so one of the key parts of my role is to exchange lessons learnt from the implementation of policies with my counterparts in governments around the world – climate change is a global issue. It is essential that we are not working in silos and we collaborate to accelerate decarbonisation across all nations.  

COP is an indispensable tool in this collaboration, and in ensuring the decarbonisation of road transport remains high on agendas across all governments internationally. 

Joscelyn test drives the Jaguar I-Pace (pictured) and the Tesla Model 3 at the Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS) 32 in Lyon 

What motivates you to do this work? 

Tackling the decarbonisation of transport is a really tangible area of policy to work in, as I get to see the impact of my team’s work every day just walking down the street. Since starting work on the zero emission vehicle transition we’ve gone from seeing the odd electric vehicle (EV) to seeing them pop up all the time – I still get excited the first time I see a new model out on the road. 

It is also an area of policy that most people in the country can relate to, either because they own a vehicle that will one day be zero emission, or because they use public transport and will one day be getting on an electric bus or maybe a hydrogen powered train. 

What insight can you provide into the realities of electric cars? 

For many people, having an EV leads to significant long-term savings with some EVs already at an equivalent lifetime cost to petrol or diesel vehicles. Although there is a higher upfront cost to purchase, the majority of new cars in the UK are leased and the price per month is often very similar for an electric or fossil fuel car. Additionally, there are only around 20 moving parts in an EV, compared to almost 2,000 in a combustion engine vehicle – that means there is less wear and tear, requiring considerably less maintenance.  

Charging an EV is a concern that is often raised by drivers. Studies have shown that when motorists first transition to an EV they quickly realise they do not need to be driving around with a full battery all the time. As you might with a petrol or diesel vehicle, you “top-up” when the charge is getting low, which depending on mileage could be once a week or less.  

Joscelyn (right) learns about one of the first plug-in hybrid Ford Transit police vans at the CENEX Low Carbon Vehicle Event

But what about those long trips? Am I going to run out of charge on the motorway? 

The average trip length in a car or van in England in 2019 was nine miles or less. When I talk to people about EVs they always worry about how they can make very long trips like Scotland to Cornwall, but in reality, for most people these trips are infrequent and are usually well planned. We already have more rapid chargers per 100 miles of strategic road network than any other country in Europe and there are more than 500 new public chargers going in every month so these longer journeys are getting easier to make by the day.  

I recently worked with colleagues to produce a misconceptions leaflet about EVs covering the top 19 misconceptions which can be viewed on GOV.UK here.  

What three things can people do to help reduce transport emissions?

  1. Make journeys via active travel wherever possible. Walking or cycling a journey is not only good for the environment, but also improves your health. 
  2. If you own an internal combustion engine vehicle, take the first step and look at what zero emission alternatives are out there. Equip yourself with the knowledge you need to confidently make your next vehicle a zero emission one. 
  3. Consider switching to a renewable energy tariff. This means any energy you do use to charge an EV is green. 

What does COP26 mean to you? What are your hopes for it? 

For almost two years the world has been in the grips of the Covid-19 pandemic. Drops in emissions and pollution due to a reduction in activity saw environmental improvements (such as dolphins in the Venice canals) but unfortunately, many of these were short lived.  

We have also experienced a number of natural disasters across the globe affecting millions of people.  

COP26 comes at a tipping point where we must take action globally to keep within the Paris Agreement and limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. For me, attitudes to internal combustion engines have shifted significantly since COP25 and I truly hope COP26 will be the COP that ends polluting road vehicles.

Find out about the role Leeds will play at COP26 here.

For further details, contact Ed Newbould, Communications Executive, University of Leeds.