Smart Transport

Government ‘too slow’ on delivery plan for net zero

The Climate Change Committee has accused the Government of being “too slow” in following up its climate commitments with delivery plans, and has said it is “absolutely critical” that the Government publishes its new net zero strategy before COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference which the UK is hosting in Glasgow this November.

There must be “clear policy plans, backed fully by the Treasury”, the Committee said, accompanied by “a commitment to prepare the country for the serious climate risks facing the UK, as the next cycle of adaption planning begins”.

Lord Deben, chairman of the Climate Change Committee, said: “We are in the decisive decade for tackling climate change. The Government must get real on delivery. Global Britain has to prove that it can lead a global change in how we treat our planet. Get it right and UK action will echo widely. Continue to be slow and timid and the opportunity will slip from our hands. Between now and COP26 the world will look for delivery, not promises.”

In its two progress reports to Parliament on net zero and adapting to the climate risks facing the UK, the Committee draws on its analysis of the UK’s sixth carbon budget and its recent third climate change risk assessment to make more than 200 climate policy recommendations, covering evert part of Government.

This includes recommendations for the Department for Transport (DfT) on cross-cutting; electric vehicles; public transport and active travel; freight and off-road mobile machinery; shipping; and aviation.  

Road building 

The Government has faced a legal challenge by environmental campaigners over its £27billion programme to expand England’s road network, and the Committee makes it clear that it believes investment in roads should be "contingent on analysis justifying how they contribute to the UK’s pathway to net zero".

"This analysis should demonstrate that the proposals would not lead to increases in overall emissions," the Committee said. 

It also recommends that "wherever possible, investment in roads should be accompanied by proportionate investment in electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and in active travel and public transport". 

Supporting the uptake of electric vehicles

The Committee suggests it is a ‘priority’ for the DfT to develop a comprehensive policy package to support the supply and uptake of electric vehicles to enable delivery of the 2030 phase-out of new petrol and diesel cars and vans. The Committee says this will require:

  • Strong consumer incentives to purchase zero-emission vehicles, whether in the form of purchase subsidies or preferential tax rates and duties. These should be fair across consumer groups and scaled back as costs of EVs fall, it said.
  • Introducing a zero-emission vehicle mandate requiring car manufacturers to sell a rising proportion of zero-emission vehicles (specifically, fully battery-electric vehicles), reaching nearly 50% by 2025 and 100% by 2030, with only a very small proportion of hybrids allowed alongside until 2035. This will benefit air quality and consumers, as well as greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Setting out ambitious UK regulations on new car and van CO2 intensities to 2030, with more regular intervals than the EU’s five years, requiring around a 55% reduction by 2025 and 97% by 2030.

On EV charging infrastructure, the Committee says that Project Rapid has “the right ambition for the strategic road network” and should be “developed into a full strategy for the 2020s and beyond”.

It also recommends:

  • Further investment is needed to support on-street and other urban charging solutions for those without off-street parking and destination charging.
  • Government should aim for there to be around 150,000 public charge points operating by 2025. These should be widely available across all regions of the UK.
  • Implement the recommendations of the EV Energy Taskforce, in particular improving the consumer charging experience and making smart-charging accessible, appealing and cost effective for as many EV users as possible.

Transitioning to zero-carbon freight

The Committee wants the Government to implement large-scale trials of zero-emission HGVs in the early-2020s to "demonstrate the commercial feasibility of these technologies and establish the most suitable and cost effective technology mix".

It has repeated its call for the Government to end the sale of new diesel HGVs by 2040 at the latest, as part of a strategy to transition to zero-carbon freight. 

This strategy should also include stronger purchase and other incentives for zero-emission HGVs; infrastructure plans and support (e.g. ultra-rapid chargers for battery-electric HGVs and hydrogen refuelling stations for hydrogen HGVs) and clean air zones.

The Committee also wants the Government to implement schemes to reduce HGV and van use in urban areas (e.g. e-cargo bikes and use of urban consolidation centres), to reduce traffic and improve the safety of active travel.

Support for public transport and active travel 

The Committee's recommendations for active travel look to build on "the positive behaviour shift" as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic with provision of infrastructure for active travel and measures to "make it less attractive to drive". 

Support for public transport and shared mobility should continue to allow the sectors to recover from the pandemic. This should include "positive communication and messaging" to "rebuild confidence" in the safety of public transport, financial support and measures to "reverse the increasing relative price advantage of car travel over public transport", the Committee said. 

On rail, the Committee wants the Government to "set out a clear vision to deliver net zero", and support Network Rail and other bodies in delivering the target to remove all passenger diesel trains by 2040. This should cover a mix of zero-emission technologies (e.g. track electrification, battery-electric, hydrogen and hybrid trains). The strategy should be published by 2021 as recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission, the Committee said. 

A ban on the sale of new diesel buses and coaches should be introduced by 2040 at the latest. This should include a requirement for new sales of diesel vehicles operating on shorter, urban routes to end considerably sooner, and for local authorities to be "empowered to continue driving zero-emission bus take-up and to deliver improvements to bus services".

Industry reaction

Reacting to the Climate Change Committee's annual assessment of UK progress in reducing emissions, Silviya Barrett, head of policy at Smart Transport member Campaign for Better Transport, said: "Government rhetoric, while welcome, is not enough: the report makes clear the need for swift, bold action to decarbonise transport.

"Public transport will be vital to this. The Government should hold its nerve, continuing to support public transport as we emerge from the pandemic to avoid devastating cuts.

"Messaging will be vital to encourage people back on board, but price pays a crucial role too: the increasing price advantage of driving over taking the bus or train is a scandal and must be reversed.

"We welcome the recommendation that road building which will lead to increases in carbon emissions should not go ahead. But overall traffic reduction will also be needed.

"If we are to meet net zero targets we can vacillate no longer: the Government must publish its transport decarbonisation plan and put it into action as a matter of urgency."

Transport minister Rachel Maclean answered criticism last week about the delay to the Government's transport decarbonisation plan, promising it would be published "soon". 

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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