The Department for Transport (DfT) has admitted that net zero carbon cannot be achieved without major interventions in the transport sector.
It conceded that: ‘There is no plausible path to net zero without major transport emissions reductions, reductions that need to start being delivered soon.’
The admission, which took many in the sector by surprise, came in a recent decarbonisation document.
Nearly six months after the transport secretary claimed to have ‘launched a ground-breaking plan to achieve net zero emissions across every single mode of transport’, his department published the document, which actually only sets out how the plan will be produced.
The DfT said the document outlines ‘the current challenges and steps to be taken when developing the transport decarbonisation plan’.
These include an admission that while the DfT projects transport emissions to ‘fall steadily’ as a result of existing policies, ‘the speed of reduction is much slower than what is likely to be needed if transport is to fully play its part in contributing to our legal obligations’, specifically the legally binding target for the UK to be net zero by 2050.
Planning to plan
Announcing the intention to produce a Transport Decarbonisation Plan last October, Grant Shapps started the ball rolling, but claimed to have launched a ground-breaking plan to achieve net zero emissions across every single mode of transport.
In the foreword to the newly-published scoping paper, he asserted: ‘Climate change is the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.’
He added: ‘Transport has a huge role to play in the economy reaching net zero. The scale of the challenge demands a step change in both the breadth and scale of ambition and we have a duty to act quickly and decisively to reduce emissions.’
However, he described the new document as ‘the start of this process’ and ‘the beginning of a conversation to develop the policies needed to decarbonise transport’.
Mr Shapps promised to publish the plan itself in the autumn, adding that it will ‘set out how we intend to transform the movement of people, goods and services to reach net zero’.
The plan points out that transport is now the largest contributor to UK domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, contributing 28% of UK domestic emissions in 2018. It attributes this to ‘success elsewhere’ but notes that transport emissions are 4% higher than in 2013.
The paper notes that cars contributed 55% of domestic transport emissions in 2018, observing: ‘Dramatic progress through regulation to improve the efficiency of new passenger cars has been largely offset by their increased use.’
In addition: ‘While absolute emissions from a number of transport sectors have decreased since 1990, there have been noticeable increases in emissions from vans and international aviation.’
The paper assesses transport emissions involved in ‘moving people’ – by cars, buses and coaches, rail, aviation, and cycling and walking – and in ‘delivering goods and services’ – by HGVs, vans, rail and maritime.
It sets out the Government’s central projection for GHG emissions from cars up to 2050. These are projected to fall by 52% from 2018 to 2050, despite a projected increase in car travel of more than 35%, with savings driven by support to increase uptake of electric vehicles and regulations on CO2.
It notes that these forecasts only include legislated policies or those with confirmed funding, ‘and therefore do not include the 2040 ambition in the Road to Zero strategy [for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission] or the consultation on bringing forward the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles [to 2035, or earlier]’.
The paper admits that ‘based on the best available evidence we project that these ambitions will not currently be met without additional action being taken’. It pledges that policies to help deliver these ambitions will be included in the final Transport Decarbonisation Plan.
Such policies will include ongoing work to improve the consumer offer for EV charging infrastructure and ‘supporting R&D to ensure that technologies for electric vehicles are developed and brought to market as early as possible’.
In addition, in spring 2020 the Government will publish a ‘vision’ for a core network of rapid/high powered chargepoints along England’s key network of roads.
The paper stresses the Government’s preference for international action to address emissions from international aviation and shipping but notes the need for ‘a contingency measure in case international progress does not go far enough or fast enough’.
Therefore ministers are ‘minded to include [them] in our carbon budgets if there is insufficient progress at an international level’.
In terms of future work, the paper sets out the core areas where plans are needed:
- Accelerating modal shift to public and active transport
- Decarbonisation of road vehicles
- Decarbonising how we get our goods
- Place-based solutions for emissions reduction
- UK as a hub for green transport technology and innovation
- Reducing carbon in a global economy
Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, said: 'It is encouraging to see the government finally acknowledge that the only way to reduce the UK's massive transport emissions is to increase public transport and active travel, and reduce car journeys.
'But, if it is serious about lowering the transport sector's carbon footprint, why did the Government just announce the biggest road-building budget in decades, and re-affirm its commitment to airport expansion? Investment is needed in buses, trams, cycling and walking, not more tarmac.'