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

The Department for Transport (DfT) has said it is on track to deliver a policy roadmap for decarbonising "every single mode of transport" in line with the UK's 2050 net-zero target this year, despite fears that the coronavirus pandemic would slow progress.

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

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

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


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