Positioned as the world’s ‘greenprint’ to decarbonise all modes of domestic transport by 2050, the Department of Transport’s recent Decarbonisation Plan received a luke-warm reception when it was finally published after months of delay this week. Rather than the coherent strategy many had envisaged, the plan brought together a series of previous commitments into a single document. This is not atypical for plans of this nature, but can be anticlimactic for observers.
The plan notably lacked many new ‘headline’ grabbing funding announcements or commitments. Coverage primarily focused on relatively mundane announcement to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and buses.
However, the positioning of – and the detail within – the plan is more revealing, outlining the significant opportunities available for companies and local authorities to engage with the Government on the future of the transport sector.
1) “It’s not about stopping people doing things: it’s about doing the same things differently.”
Shapps’ remark that “we will still fly on holiday, but in more efficient aircraft, using sustainable fuel. We will still drive, but increasingly in zero emission cars” was one of the most criticised aspects of the plan, which many took as an endorsement of continued unsustainable travel, given that the replacement technologies are not yet widespread. Rather, the claim speaks to the Conservatives’ broader strategy when it comes to reaching net zero – backing new technologies and slowly shifting habits through, cautious, market incentives, rather than encouraging serious behaviour change
The plan revealed several commitments.. As well as banning HGVs by 2030, the Government announced that UK domestic aviation will meet net zero by 2040 and UK shipping by 2050. But with a section of the strategy entirely dedicated to ‘supporting UK R&D’ to achieve decarbonisation, it is clear that the means of getting to Shapps’ future is not a reality yet.
2) “The Transport decarbonisation plan is just the start”
It is certainly clear from this plan that the Government continues to rely on innovation and co-operation from industry to provide the solutions for net zero. Publishing the plan, Shapps caveated that “we will need continued efforts and collaboration to deliver [the plan’s] ambitious commitments”. To that end, the Government announced a series of consultations they hope will help them reach their own targets. One area of focus was the aviation sector, with the Government announcing a new Jet Zero consultation. So, whilst the plan may lack detail it clearly demonstrates the opportunity for companies help shape the future of transportation, beyond COP26.
3) Regulation will play an important role
Whilst there was little regulation outlined in the plan itself, it did indicate there will be more to come. The plan states that the Government is planning “ambitious phase out dates for the sale of new non-zero emission vehicles, from scooters and motorcycles to 44 tonne trucks” which “will be underpinned by a new, world-leading, regulatory framework and a package of support for drivers and vehicle manufacturers”.
The Government has faced criticism for failing to provide concrete guidance on regulations to allow companies to plan ahead for the future. This plan does little to pacify those concerns, but it does hint at the areas where further action may be taken, including that the Government is consulting on the design of a new regulatory regime for road vehicles’ CO2 emissions, including the possible
introduction of a zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate, as recommended by the Climate Change Committee.
4) “Transport is not just how you get around”
Introducing the plan, Shapps remarked that transport is more than getting it around “it is something that fundamentally shapes our towns, cities and countryside, our living standards and our health”. It speaks to the Government’s recognition of the link between transport, air pollution and the levelling up agenda.
5) Local governments will be key
With that agenda in mind, the final point is the important role that local governments and authorities will play. Shapps outlined that “local authorities will have the power and ambition to make bold decisions” on transport while the plan outlined the commitment that by 2050 every place in the UK will have its own net zero transport network with “radical change” coming from “empowering and supporting local leaders…local authorities, mayoral combined authorities, Sub-National Transport Bodies, the devolved administrations and local interest groups.” With a new £90 million Local EV Infrastructure Fund, opening in 2022, and further inroads being made by shared micro-mobility innovations such as e-scooters, it is clear that transport decarbonisation will play out on a local level.