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Government lays path to net zero transport emissions

Darren Shirley's picture

At any other time, the document published by the Department for Transport today would be making headlines. The first step towards a Transport Decarbonisation Plan to be published later in the year, the document recognises that current policies will not be nearly enough to bring transport in line with net zero greenhouse gas emissions, and begins to lay the groundwork for a wide range of stronger measures.

Of course, these are not ordinary times. With the country rightly united around one challenge, and the implications of coronavirus for the transport sector far from clear, it will be some time before the vision outlined in today's Decarbonising Transport document can come into focus. But as visions go, it's rather impressive.

The Government's commitment to boosting electric cars, ending sales of petrol and diesel vehicles and investing in charging infrastructure, has been central to its strategy to date. But this new document acknowledges that these measures, while important, are not enough. In 2019, only just over three per cent of new cars sold were battery-powered or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Meanwhile transport continues to emit more carbon dioxide than any other sector, its emissions having barely decreased since 1990.

What's new about this document is that it lays out in unprecedented terms a vision of modal shift, with fewer journeys being made by car and more being made by public transport, on foot and by bike.

"Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network."
- Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in the foreword to Decarbonising Transport

We welcome this vision, having long urged the Government that action on all fronts is needed to make transport - the laggard of emissions reduction - fit for the future.

The document also highlights the importance of:

  • Cleaning up freight, including 'last mile' deliveries
  • Decarbonising rail, with investment in electrification and new technologies
  • Investment in buses, including zero-emission buses
  • Greatly increased investment in cycling and walking
  • Making the UK a leader in sustainable transport technology

On page 56 of Decarbonising Transport you'll find perhaps the most striking graph. It shows how current Department for Transport policy is projected to bring emissions down steadily... and compares this to the markedly greater reduction that is needed in order to meet net zero targets.

"It is clear from figure 18 that the UK must go much further in reducing domestic transport emissions than currently projected if we are to meet... our legal obligation to reach net zero GHG emissions by 2050."
- Decarbonising Transport

Of course, acknowledging this shortfall - and envisioning a better future - are just step one. The final Transport Decarbonisation Plan must include concrete measures as strong as this vision if our transport system is to be made fit for the future.

Decarbonising transport will be a great challenge, and right now we face an even greater one. But in coming months we look forward to engaging with the Government to help bring this strong vision closer to reality.