Transport Decarbonisation Plan: UK Government to ban new petrol and diesel truck sales by 2040

The UK Government has unveiled its much-anticipated Transport Decarbonisation Plan, designed to align all modes of domestic transport with the national net-zero target.

The Plan was originally due out in late 2020 but was delayed amid Covid-19 and, reportedly, calls for more ambitious targets 

The Plan was originally due out in late 2020 but was delayed amid Covid-19 and, reportedly, calls for more ambitious targets 

Published following months of delays, the Plan outlines the Government’s approach, in terms of timings and technologies, to decarbonising the UK’s highest-emitting sector. It covers all domestic forms of transport including road, rail, shipping and flights, but international shipping and aviation are not covered.

A headline commitment of the new Plan is to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and buses. The Department for Transport (DfT) will consult on proposals to phase out polluting vehicles weighing between 3.5 tonnes and 26 tonnes from 2035 and those weighing more than 26 tonnes from 2040. It has stated that earlier dates will be set if the private sector agrees that a faster transition is “feasible”.

This legislation follows on from the Government’s decision to bring the ban on new petrol and diesel cars and vans forward from 2035 to 2030. After this point, second-hand vehicle sales will still be permitted, as will the sale of fossil-fuelled motorbikes and mopeds.

“Consultation on proposed phase-out dates for new diesel HGVs should enable business to move forwards with confidence,” Logistics UK’s director of policy Elizabeth de Jong said.

The Government, the Plan states, will lead by example on road transport decarbonisation. The Plan brings forward a commitment to electrify the Government’s own fleet of cars and vans from 2030 to 2027.

To bring together all of the targets and measures for decarbonising road transport, the DfT has published a 2035 Delivery Plan on this issue specifically.

Details on plans for decarbonising public transport are fairly light. The Plan highlights the Ten Point Plan commitments of £5bn for walking, cycling and low-carbon buses, as well as the National Bus Strategy. Consultations on the Strategy’s end-date for diesel bus sales are ongoing. Replacements will likely be a mixture of electric and hydrogen models.

It is worth noting that the UK Government is currently being taken to court, on climate grounds, over the potential impact of its £27.4bn roads building plan. The High Court has not yet provided a specific future date for a likely result to the organisation prosecuting, the Transport Action Network (TAN). 

Spotlight on aviation

Aviation has often proven a sticking point in discussions around the transition to low-carbon transport. Globally, it accounts for 3% of emissions but, Covid-19 pandemic aside, has been one of the world’s fastest-growing sectors in terms of climate impact.

Detailed in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan is a commitment to align the sector with net-zero by 2050. Plans for delivery are broadly in line with those put forward by the UK Sustainable Aviation coalition, which last month published new targets for members to reduce absolute net emissions by at least 15% by 2030 and 40% by 2040.The coalition sees more efficient aircraft and sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) playing a bigger role than hydrogen and electric technologies, at least for the next two decades. 

For domestic aviation, an earlier target of 2040 will be consulted upon by the DfT. This will cover all airport operations in England as well as all domestic flights.

There is no mention of stopping airport expansion or capping growth in passenger numbers – a measure recommended by the Government’s own advisory body, the Climate Change Committee (CCC). The DfT said in a statement that it will “ensure that everyone can continue to fly for holidays, visits to family and business reasons”. This will likely come as a disappointment to not only the CCC but to Green Alliance and Transport & Environment, which had been calling for the Plan to signal an end to airport expansions.

On the positive side, the CCC had been calling for the publication of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan before Parliament rises for summer recess on 22 July. The Committee’s recent progress report to Parliament stated that the Government will not be able to call its plans for decarbonisation this decade “credible” without publishing strategies to address policy gaps in sectors such as transport, heat and buildings, biomass, food and finance.

Summarising the new Plan, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Transport is not just how you get around. It is something that fundamentally shapes our towns, cities, and countryside, our living standards and our health. It can shape all those things for good, or for bad. Decarbonisation is not just some technocratic process. It’s about how we make sure that transport shapes quality of life and the economy in ways that are good.

“It’s not about stopping people doing things: it’s about doing the same things differently. We will still fly on holiday, but in more efficient aircraft, using sustainable fuel. We will still drive, but increasingly in zero-emission cars. 

“The Transport Decarbonisation Plan is just the start – we will need continued efforts and collaboration to deliver its ambitious commitments, which will ultimately create sustainable economic growth through healthier communities as we build back greener.”

Click here to read edie’s round-up of all the reaction to the new Plan from key green economy figures and organisations.


Join the conversation at edie's Clean Energy & Transport Forum

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Linking to the two key COP26 themes of Clean Energy and Clean Transport, this brand new virtual conference will explore what it will take to deliver the net-zero transition in these key sectors.

The Department for Transport's Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Rachel Maclean has been confirmed as one of the keynote speakers, alongside Energy Institute chief executive Nick Wayth; The Climate Group chief executive Helen Clarkson and Innovate UK senior Innovation lead Harsh Pershad.

Click here for a full agenda and to register for the Clean Energy and Transport Forum. 


Sarah George



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