Government presses forward with plan to align ‘every single mode of transport’ with net-zero

The plan will ensure that active travel and public transport are the "natural first choice" for short-distance journeys

The DfT first announced that it was working on the plan in October 2019, following months of calls for clarity on how policy and business should work to transform the UK’s most-emitting sector.

At the time, the Department said the plan would be published some time in 2020 after “extensive” collaboration with stakeholders such as local authorities, trade bodies, scientists, NGOs and corporates.

A new policy paper on the creation of the plan, published late on Thursday (26 March), reassures readers that the overall timeline for creation remains the same, and that the DfT will still host a “series of events, workshops and opportunities this year” to give external stakeholders their say. It states that publication will happen in autumn, ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November.

The policy paper also broadly sets out how the DfT is looking to shape the plan, in order to deliver not incremental improvements but systematic change.

According to the policy paper, the new plan will help ensure that public transport and active travel – such as walking and cycling – are the “natural first choice” for daily activities such as commuting and shopping. Achieving this modal shift, the policy paper states, will require financial support for “coherent and cost-effective” networks, coupled with effective behaviour change communications and supports. One such support will be the creation of a “universally recognised measure and tool” that enables individuals to compare how much CO2 their journey will emit, by mode of transport and distance.

For journeys that are taken by vehicle – domestic or business – the DfT is aiming to ensure that only zero-emission vehicles are on UK roads by mid-century. It states that this transition will be brought about through a combination of regulatory changes, support for vehicle innovation and supply, investing in refuelling and recharging infrastructure and readying the energy system for increased demand.

Boris Johnson notably moved the UK’s ban on new petrol and diesel car sales from 2040 to 2035 recently. While this delighted green groups and is aligned with the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) advice, several corporates, trade bodies and consumer bodies warned that a more holistic approach would be needed, given current issues such as high upfront vehicle prices, a lack of mature circular economy solutions for batteries and the fact that vehicle sales are significantly outpacing charging and refuelling infrastructure rollouts.

The policy paper also covers logistics, stating that the UK can expect all goods to be delivered “through an integrated, efficient and sustainable delivery system” by mid-century. In consultations on the plan, the DfT will explore how digital solutions and data sharing can optimise efficiency for mid-to-long-distance logistics journeys, and how last-mile deliveries within urban areas can be transformed. This research, it states, will be grounded in considerations around how the ways in which businesses and individuals consume and access goods will change.

Local, national, global

Aside from modal shift, zero-emissions technologies and efficient logistics, the policy paper states that the final plan will take a three-level form in terms of geography.

Acknowledging the fact that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for decarbonising transport systems, the policy paper says DfT will develop “place-based solutions and targets”, to be managed at a local authority level.

At a national level, the document continues, the Government’s focus will be utilising scientists, business leaders and innovators to position the UK as an “internationally recognised leader of environmentally sustainable technology and innovation in transport”. “Near market quick-wins” will be prioritised in this work, given the UK’s position as COP26 host and the Conservative Government’s focus on encouraging other nations to set net-zero targets.

International transport has always proven something of a sticking-point. The Government chose to exclude international shipping and aviation from the remit of the original 2008 Climate Change Act and, at present, is excluding them from the remit of the updated target – against the advice of the CCC. Green campaigners have repeatedly argued that this approach gives the UK a “get-out-of-jail-free card”.

The policy paper states that the DfT “recognises that aviation and maritime are international by nature and require international solutions”. It states that the current Government is keen to lead international efforts to develop such solutions, but further detail remains light. Previous attempts to decarbonise these two sub-sectors have broadly culminated in the creation of the industry-wide Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) and the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) goal of halving emissions by 2050 – neither of which are net-zero aligned.

Sarah George

Comments (3)

  1. chris gillham says:

    This is typical DfT green wash. There is no indication in the report of any intention to reduce either road or aviation traffic. Indeed the opposite. This is the usual DfT predict and provide – more roads, more runways, more unnecessary journeys everywhere. We don’t have to worry about greenhouse gases because we can fantasise about technology solving all the problems. No plausible justification of these ambitions. Just like DfT fantasies about the economic benefits of mass travel. This is a fraudulent announcement.

  2. Richard Phillips says:

    A new policy will, inevitably be written by, overwhelmingly, bureaucrats. Not a physical scientist in sight!!
    No mention is made of the problem of energy supply, the amount or the source!!
    To "decarbonise" the transport system, an alternative source of energy is needed. Only nuclear and renewables remain. Renewables are spasmodic and dilute. They thus require both large installations (on land or sea), and large storage facilities. Both are inconvenient. Nuclear generation is concentrated (as at present with fossil fuels), and constant in meeting demand.
    This leaves only nuclear if both a reliable and demand lead system is required. We have no economic hydro sources left. But whose looking!!
    When the penny drops we shall be at least ten years too late, and, and the quick answer will be needed, GAS. Nuclear scares the boots off our politicians.
    Richard Phillips.

  3. Trevor Thorp says:

    Showing a picture of a cycleway, all clean an usable, look around towns and villages, check out how many paths cannot take a wheel chair or buggy, or a cycle way that was 3m now may be 2m . Maintenance is usually forgotten, all the leaves a great slippery surface. To encourage people to ride and walk make the place safer. I use equipment that solves these problems with the use of pesticides and wonder why nothing is done , each body passed the buck to an under resourced council or contractor who does the job as a afterthought.

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