Decarbonisation: Zero by 2050

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Department for Transport (DfT) is developing the UK’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan in order to achieve carbon budgets and net zero emissions across every single mode of transport by 2050. DfT has published six strategic priorities (Figure 1) for the Plan and hosted a series of workshops on these in July and August 2020. Dr Emily Gould from the Intelligent Mobility team attended the workshops which proved to be extremely thought provoking on how we can create a cleaner, healthier future. Below, Dr Gould provides commentary on the government’s priorities.

 

  1. Accelerating modal shift to public and active transport

The Emergency Active Travel Fund, part of a £2 billion investment has demonstrated the Government can act quickly to reprioritise space to allow for social distancing with new pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements and safer junctions. There has been an increase in active travel across the UK during the pandemic; although a significant reduction in public transport use for obvious reasons. However, since lockdown restrictions have eased, car use has recovered and we need local and national government to act, so positive behaviours are not lost, or worse that policies are not introduced to make car use easier than pre-pandemic. To encourage modal shift, I believe policy and services need to focus on end-to-end low carbon journeys, a re-prioritisation of modes across the network and greater incentives.

The Cycling and Walking Plan published recently, recognises the potential for active travel to decarbonise transport over the coming years and built on the ambitions set out in Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge.

  1. Decarbonising how we get our goods

Changing behaviours, amplified by the pandemic, has seen an increase in online purchases and home deliveries. There are alternative vehicles for last mile deliveries using e-cargo bikes and light powered vehicles that can provide an integrated, clean and sustainable delivery system within high density areas. However, this stresses the importance of considering the diversity of places across the UK and that one solution will not suit both rural and urban applications.

We all agree the challenge of freight and logistics is much greater than parcel deliveries. Efficiencies in rail, marine and road logistics need to be at the core of decarbonisation. As an industry, freight and logistics needs to be linked to the circular economy in order to improve resource efficiency. For instance, the opportunity for greater collaboration across eco-systems using local hubs and micro-consolidation centres to reduce empty return miles.

To support this priority, the Government need to provide clearer direction for the freight and logistics industry. Although there are short-term vehicle improvements that can be employed, the industry needs targets and milestones to provide certainty for the private sector to invest.

  1. Decarbonising road transport

The UK is committed to decarbonising road transport through the transition to zero emission vehicles. The Government recently concluded a consultation on bringing forward the end to the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans from 2040 to 2035, or earlier.

For this to be achievable, it’s worth discussing the need for demand and supply side measures to encourage adoption of zero emission vehicles and provide confidence in technology options beyond 2022. Regulation is driving the supply of zero emission vehicles in Europe and there is an opportunity for DfT to introduce more stringent policies such as road user charging and tolling, while offsetting this by fiscal schemes, to encourage a change in behaviours.

Specifically, for electric vehicles there is a need for a more strategic and coordinated rollout of EV charging infrastructure and network improvements across the UK. However, we need different modes of transport to complement each other and where possible active, shared and public transport should be encouraged to tackle the challenge of congestion.

  1. Place-based solutions

It is clear there are different challenges, enablers and opportunities for transport decarbonisation in different areas, in the short and longer term. It is important to consider the use of different solutions for different places, using data to inform the solution mix and operating levels that meet community needs.

At the DfT workshop, there was a consensus that planning is fundamental to ‘building back better’ but we need to ensure there is a focus on integrated transport orientated design to allow end-to-end journeys to be made by sustainable and active modes, so where possible reliance on a private vehicle is diminished. Mobility hubs or accessibility hubs that can provide communities with transport options, local services, cafes and workspaces are now more relevant to the discussion than ever.

The challenges entrenched in our behaviours and ‘cultural norms’ will require strong leadership from central and local government to shape the vision of the future for their local communities, supported by more ambitious targets. More broadly, reform in funding applications and appraisals is crucial to allow for a recognition of the wider benefits new transport solutions can bring to health and wellbeing, to remove competition between authorities and instead allow for greater collaboration.

Across the workshops there were many correlating and reinforcing themes which call for a more holistic approach to decarbonise transport and energy systems. This requires greater coordination and collaboration across government and a more cohesive long-term strategy that will allow the public and businesses to invest in technology and infrastructure.

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