Transport Minister Rachel Maclean: UK can be a ‘pacesetter’ for green industrial revolution

EXCLUSIVE: Transport Minister Rachel Maclean believes that the newly released Transport Decarbonisation Plan can spur the next industrial revolution that ushers in unprecedented levels of innovation to help meet the national net-zero target.

Transport Minister Rachel Maclean: UK can be a ‘pacesetter’ for green industrial revolution

The Minister was speaking at edie's Clean Energy & Transport Forum

The Department for Transport’s (DfT) Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Rachel Maclean spoke at edie’s Clean Energy & Transport Forum on Thursday (15 July), just one day after the publication of the Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan.

Published following months of delays, the Transport Decarbonisation 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.

The plan featured headline commitments to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and buses and for the government’s own fleet of cars and vans to transition to electric vehicles (EVs) by 2027 instead of 2030. The Government pledges to move 25% of its car fleet to ultra-low emissions by December 2022 as an interim step.

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

Speaking at edie’s Forum, Maclean provided a timely update as to how the Government was mobilising finance and unlocking innovation to spur progress towards the wider net-zero target.

“It’s a really important year in the fight against climate change and a year where we’re really building momentum towards a zero-carbon future,” Maclean said. “This isn’t an insurmountable problem, but rather an exciting opportunity to innovate in partnership across industries and to make tangible change for the better. Transport will play a central role at COP26.

“What we’re seeing here is the start of a new industrial revolution, but this time delivering the double benefit to our economy and the health of our planet… We are determined to be a pacesetter of a green industrial revolution with transport decarbonisation at the core. It is our overwhelming priority and it’s a strong message we’ll send to every country around the world at COP26.”

But while the Transport Plan sits within the Department for Transport (DfT), delivering the ambitions listed in the plan will require wholesale changes to infrastructure in the forms of roads planning and charging availability and providing new powers to local authorities to improve public transport access for all parts of society.

Prior to the publication of the strategy, IPPR analysis warned that the Government’s efforts to decarbonise transport are focusing too much on EVs and could fail to provide affordable and clean transport alternatives that cut overall car use.

The analysis suggests that efforts to decarbonise road transport through the uptake of EVs could deliver an 11% increase in car traffic by 2050 and a 28% increase in car ownership. The analysis expresses concern about the resources required to accommodate the 28% increase in car ownership – equivalent to around 43.6 million vehicles.

The Plan reiterates the delivery of £2bn over the next five years into cycling and walking infrastructure with the aim that half of all journeys in towns and cities will be cycled or walked by 2030 – as outlined in the Ten Point Plan. A “word class” cycling and walking network will be created by 2040.

According to Maclean, transport can benefit from an “amazing variety of technological advances that are changing our economy”, such as automation, data and low-carbon technologies, that can “make our communities a better place to live”.

Maclean also noted how important a “joined-up approach” within Government that spanned multiple departments – notably the Treasury – would be in enabling the aims of the Transport Plan.

“We are making some quite significant changes inside Government,” Maclean revealed. “Every Transport Minister since 2010 has tried to get new builds to have an EV charge point in them as standard, that has never happened, but will later this year.

“We need to really put our arms around local authorities. We hear all the time that local authorities have the will, but sometimes not the way, so they need central Government support to turn their plans into reality. This cannot just be done by [the] transport [department], but we have a very good relationship with the Treasury which has enabled us to publish this plan in such a timely manner.”

Maclean was also asked whether road pricing was “inevitable” to manage demand on the road network in order to “fund first-class public services and infrastructure”.

The minister claimed it was a “debate that needed to start”. The Transport Plan notes the need to change taxation in order to shift away from petrol-based taxes as electrification and alternative fuels become more commonplace. However, Maclean claimed that the Government didn’t want to “damage” smaller businesses by imposing a new taxation system without consideration and potentially consultation.

Maclean also encouraged businesses at the Forum to join the Race to Zero initiative. In joining Race to Zero, corporates commit to setting more ambitious targets in line with climate science and to using their reach to encourage climate action across their networks.

Almost one in three FTSE100 companies have signed up to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign, designed to accelerate the adoption of net-zero targets ahead of COP26.

Read edie’s new COP26 Primer Report on Clean Energy

edie’s COP26 Primer Reports are about seizing the green opportunity of the crucial conference in Glasgow this November. Produced in the run-up to the official talks, this mini-series of reports are based on the five key themes of COP26: Clean Energy, Clean Transport, Climate Resilience, Nature-Based Solutions, and Climate Finance.

The Clean Energy report – the first in this series – is now available to download for free here. Hosted in association with British Gas, it contains an up-to-date snapshot of clean energy policies, progress and challenges globally, as well as outlining the desired outcome in this field at the talks themselves. Also detailed are the ways in which the private and public sectors can contribute to the energy transition at this pivotal moment in time. 

Click here to download a copy of the Primer Report.

Matt Mace

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