UK’s big plan to green transport edges ahead of ‘Fit for 55’ on the road
The UK government’s Decarbonising Transport plan, announced on the same day as the EU Fit for 55 review, goes further than the EU Commission’s proposals with a bold target to have only zero-emissions vehicles on the UK’s roads - a world first for a major economy. The strategy is a ‘milestone’ in the shift to greener transport, but more difficult decisions will be needed to reduce vehicle use and flying if the UK is to meet its ambitious climate goals.
One eye-catching proposal is that no new fossil-fuelled vehicles can be sold after 2040, including larger trucks, paving the way to a UK fleet consisting of only zero emission vehicles by 2050. Sales of smaller diesel trucks would be banned from 2035.
Amongst a plethora of announcements was the UK’s divergence from EU car and van CO2 regulations and the introduction of a zero emission vehicles (ZEV) mandate. This will require carmakers to sell an increasing share of new ZEVs until 2035. Cars and vans with only a petrol or diesel engine can’t be sold after 2030 and their emissions will be limited through a parallel CO2 regulation. The announcement will accelerate the supply of electric cars and will ensure the fall in battery prices delivers affordable battery electric vehicles.
The plan also emphasises the need to reduce both vehicle use and increase car occupancy. But the warm words are not supported by sufficiently meaningful policies to achieve the kind of cuts in car use that are needed to meet the UK’s 2035 climate target. Walking and cycling are to be the “natural first choice”, but there is no new money being thrown into improving infrastructure in these areas and the plan avoids any mention of road pricing, despite the blackhole in future UK coffers caused by falling fossil-fuel duties. Fears of a backlash seem to have persuaded ministers to ignore the elephant in the room.
The UK’s gargantuan road building programme also avoided an immediate, much-needed cull. But the plan did announce a policy review, the first step towards reducing new road building and directing investment to green transport schemes. More legal challenges to the road building programme are inevitable.
International aviation was another elephant left out of the room. A Jet Zero consultation does constructively propose that internal UK flights will have net-zero emissions by 2040, an increasing share of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), and that aviation is included in the new UK carbon pricing scheme.
But the proposals failed to provide a coherent plan to decarbonise the sector and were unrealistically optimistic about future international progress through ICAO’s Corsia framework and use of offsets. UK proposals for a SAF mandate are also more cautious than the EU proposed. The Government also ignored the recommendation of its climate advisers for a moratorium on additional airport capacity that would effectively cap UK flights at pre-pandemic levels and avoid escalating emissions. There remains an unwillingness from ministers to level with the public, or industry, that flying must become an occasional luxury.
Shipping remains stuck in the doldrums with already weak proposals watered down at the last moment and no new meaningful commitments or levers. Unlike aviation there is no date for UK-related shipping to be net-zero, no inclusion of shipping in the UK ETS, and no obligation on operators or ports to deploy renewable fuels. Green shipping represents a huge opportunity for the UK economy from engine manufacturing to maritime financial services. But, in shipping, like aviation, the UK is not keeping pace with the EU.
The plan is an important first step towards decarbonising UK transport, but it is only the start. The UK’s ambitious climate goals will not be met unless the government converts its raft of new proposals into measures that rapidly change how people and goods move. Electrification of vehicles and the shift to sustainable fuels in aviation and shipping will progressively reduce emissions. But difficult choices, and not more roads or runways, will be needed to further reduce vehicle use, cap the number of flights, and reallocate spending towards green transport options.