Smart Transport

Updated: Government publishes plan for decarbonising all modes of transport by 2050

Transport secretary Grant Shapps

The Government has published its long-awaited transport decarbonisation plan, which puts the UK on course to decarbonise all modes of domestic transport by 2050.

As revealed yesterday, the plan includes consulting on a pledge to end the sale of all new, internal combustion engine road vehicles by 2040.

The consultation proposes a 2035 phase out date for new ICE vehicles weighing from 3.5 to 26 tonnes and 2040 for vehicles weighing more than 26 tonnes – or earlier if a faster transition seems feasible.

This follows a commitment to end the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2030, and hybrids by 2035 and £2.8 billion to support industry and motorists to make the switch to cleaner vehicles.

The Government wants to make public transport and active travel “the natural first choice for all who can take them” and has set a target of half of all journeys in towns and cities being cycled or walked by 2030.

It has already pledged £2 billion in cycling and walking and the plan also sets out how the Government will improve public transport and increase support for active travel. Further details will be announced on plans for a zero emission transport city. 

It intends to create a net zero rail network by 2050, and commit the domestic aviation sector to net zero by 2040 (subject to consultation).

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.”

Greg Archer, UK director of the Europe-wide green transport campaign group Transport & Environment, said: “This plan is a milestone in the shift to a more sustainable UK transport system. The decision to only use zero emission road vehicles – including trucks – by 2050 is world-leading and will significantly reduce Britain’s climate impact and improve the air we breathe. This complements the goal of net zero internal UK flights by 2040, although there is much more to do to tackle international aviation emissions.

"To ensure the UK meets its climate targets, the Government will need to convert its raft of new proposals into measures that rapidly change how people and goods move. More difficult decisions to reduce vehicle use and flying and reallocate spending towards green transport options will be needed, but this plan signifies a commendable and substantial shift in the right direction."

Review of £27 billion roads policy

The plan includes a commitment to review the current National Policy Statement (NPS) on National Networks, the Government's statement of strategic planning policy for major road and rail schemes.

The £27 billion programme has been the subject of a legal challenge by Transport Action Network and the move will be seen as a victory for environmental campaigners.

The Government says it is reviewing the NPS “in light of developments” since the policy was written in 2014, such as its legal commitment to net zero, the 10 point-plan for a green industrial revolution, the new sixth carbon budget and the new, more ambitious policies outlined in the transport decarbonisation plan.  

“While the NPS continues to remain in force, it is right that we review it in the light of these developments, and update forecasts on which it is based to reflect more recent, post-pandemic conditions, once they are known,” the Government said.

Reduction in urban road traffic

The transport decarbonisation plan states that the Government wants to reduce urban road traffic overall but does not set a firm target.

It says that improvements to public transport, walking and cycling, promoting ridesharing and higher car occupancy, and the changes in commuting, shopping and business travel accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, also offer the opportunity for a reduction or at least a stabilisation, in traffic more widely.

Commuting accounts for about one in five car journeys in the UK and the plan identifies that reducing single occupancy commuting journeys by 10% could save 500,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. To help UK businesses to take action to reduce emissions from employees’ journeys, the Government intends to launch a ‘commute zero’ programme next year.

This will see the Government working with leading companies and large employers to research, support and encourage long-term changes to employee travel habits and support the take-up of lower carbon commuting, such as public and active transport, and car sharing initiatives, including a pilot commuter census survey and demonstrator projects.

The plan includes a commitment to increase car sharing in general, not just for those commuting, by 2030.

Data from the 2019 National Travel Survey shows that the average occupancy rate is 1.55 across cars and vans, and the Government says that increasing this to 1.7 could save nearly 3Mt of carbon a year by 2030 - roughly equivalent to that currently emitted from all buses in a year. An increase to 1.6 could save nearly 1Mt a year by 2030.

The Government says that it will work with industry and local authorities to understand what further action can be taken to increase the uptake of shared mobility.

Local transport funding

The Government intends to drive decarbonisation and transport improvement at a local level by making quantifiable carbon reductions a fundamental part of local transport planning and funding

Carbon reduction targets set in local transport plans will need to be in line with carbon budgets and net zero.

The Government says it will support local areas by providing guidance on designing sustainable transport solutions through local transport plans.

It also wants to facilitate collaboration between areas, similar to that between Coventry and its surrounding area, and cross regional work led by sub-national transport bodies. 

Key publications 

The commitment comes as the Government publishes a green paper setting out the regulatory framework requiring vehicle manufacturers to improve the fuel efficiency of new cars, vans and HGVs, enabling the country to meet the ambitious phase out dates while creating new jobs for the automotive sector and delivering certainty for drivers. This includes consulting on the possible introduction of a new phased industry mandate for zero emission vehicles.

The Government has also published a 2035 delivery plan, which brings together all of the measures for decarbonising cars and vans, from across Government, into a single document. It outlines the key timelines, milestones and how progress towards the commitment to deliver mass ownership of zero emission cars and vans will be monitored.

This follows recent investments from car manufacturer Nissan to produce its new-generation electric vehicle in Sunderland, alongside Envision’s new Gigafactory, as well as Stellantis’s investment in Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port manufacturing plant to transform the site for a new era in electric vehicle manufacturing.

The Government has also:

  • Announced that it has brought forward the target date for the whole central Government fleet of 40,000 cars and vans to be fully zero emission by 2027, three years earlier than previously planned.
  • Published its response to the electric vehicle smart charging consultation, committing to laying legislation later this year to ensure that all new private EV chargepoints meet smart charging standards, which can save consumers money on their energy bills.
  • Published its rail environment policy statement, which will set the direction for the rail industry on environment issues such as traction decarbonisation, air quality, decarbonising the rail estate, biodiversity and waste.


Watch now: Connecting Policy To Solutions Virtual Conference 2021

Smart Transport Conference returned on June 8th & 9th, to facilitate pivotal discussions on the future of transport. 

The UK’s most senior public and private sector transport leaders discussed the impact of Covid-19, achieving the Government’s decarbonisation ambitions, the need for more efficient living and better health, and much more.

Kwasi Kwarteng, secretary of state at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), who spoke on BEIS's approach to decarbonising transport, particularly the electrification of the vehicle industry. Watch his presentation below:


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