A low carbon future for UK transport

May 18, 2022

Transport and Environment (T&E’s) views on the UK Department for Transport’s Low Carbon Fuels Strategy Call for Ideas

This is T&E’s response to the UK’s Department for Transport Low Carbon Fuels Strategy request for ideas.
To date, the UK’s transport sector has a poor decarbonisation record. Surface transport remains the UK’s highest emitting sector and, pre-pandemic, emissions had remained broadly level over the previous decade. Emissions from aviation have risen dramatically since 1990, and in 2019 were at the highest they had ever been. In total, in 2019 transport emissions were responsible for 27% of the UKs emissions. Only the pandemic reduced emissions significantly.
Nevertheless, low carbon fuels have had an effect since the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) was introduced, and it has served us well. However, there now needs to be a shift in Government thinking. The RTFO has fed liquid fuels into the road transport system, but we now know that the vast majority of future low carbon fuels will be electricity and hydrogen-based. Whilst liquid road fuels will be with us until (at least) the 2040s, the Department for Transport’s (DfT) strategy should now be to electrify the UKs road fleet as quickly as possible, whilst ensuring that liquid fuel production and consumption increasingly shifts into the aviation and maritime sectors. The RTFO either needs to be adapted to do just that, or be increasingly supplemented by other policy mechanisms.
The end point for fuelling transport is clear. By 2050, the vast majority of road vehicles in the UK will be zero tailpipe emission. In all probability, this will mean they are all electrified: whilst there is some talk now of hydrogen buses and HGVs, these would be more expensive to run, would require a refuelling network that does not exist at present, and most importantly, would prevent hydrogen going into the aviation and maritime sectors. Planes will be fuelled by a combination of electricity, hydrogen and waste-based sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Ships will be fuelled by electricity and ammonia.
The main driver of this change will be Government policy. There are many policies both proposed and in place that will convert the UKs transport fleet to zero emission alternatives. This call for ideas has two distinct suggestions that will enhance policy further. Firstly, that renewable electricity be included in the RTFO. Secondly, that the Support, Regulate, Ban framework be consistently implemented.

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