A new party about transport decarbonisation

9th Jul 2024

As Labour head into government, CIHT’s manifesto asks them to ‘reaffirm commitments’ to net zero transport.

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By Tom Austin-Morgan

Following the publication of CIHT’s new manifesto ‘A transport network fit for all our futures’ calling on government and decision makers to change the way we look at our highways and transportation network, we deep dive into one its six commitments: The transport sector decarbonises in line with legally binding obligations.

The former government mandated that the country should produce net zero carbon emissions by 2050. But, to achieve this, more action is needed.

In its ‘Sixth Carbon Budget’ the Committee for Climate Change (CCC) maps out that path to net zero which, if followed, could see emissions from ‘surface transport’ fall from 113 MtCO2e (a carbon emissions measurement) in 2019 to 32 MtCO2e in 2035 and further to approximately 1 MtCO2e by 2050.

Delivering this transition will require take-up of low-carbon technologies, low-carbon fuels and efficiency improvements for petrol and diesel vehicles and behaviour change to reduce travel demand and shift journeys onto lower-carbon modes of transport.

Some low-cost, low-regret options posed in the report include reducing car miles by 9% by 2035 and 17% by 2050, shifting to lower-carbon modes of transport like walking and cycling, increasing the rollout of broadband rather than road building to increase working from home, and the high take-up of electric vehicles (EVs) resulting in the end of new conventional cars, vans and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs).

Additionally, last-mile delivery by e-scooters and other EVs rather than vans could reduce van mileage by 3% and heavy goods vehicle (HGV) mileage by 10% by 2035. All new buses should be ultra-low or zero emissions by 2035 and diesel trains should be phased out by 2040, replaced by a mix of hydrogen, battery-electric and electric hybrid trains.
It also calls for the UK government to start large-scale trials of different technologies for HGVs to better understand the options and for the market to develop.

‘Being more creative’ to solve problems

Andrew Crudgington, Climate Change Associate, CIHT, concludes: “If we follow the CCC’s pathway, about 80% of the emission savings are going to come from the switch to electric and hydrogen vehicles and 20% from reducing the demand for travel, which is hard because it involves significant behaviour change and taking people with you.

“Even though you are telling them things they may not want to hear, if you’re being serious about achieving net zero by 2050, we need to be serious about both elements and not rely on a technology fix.”

Indeed, the CCC has criticised the previous government for failing to address behavioural change and that the subject is getting urgent: “The Government has made no progress on our recommendations on clarifying the role for car demand reduction and ensuring that key enablers (road-building decisions and taxation) are aligned to delivering this,” it said.

The Department of Transport (DfT) also has its transport decarbonisation plan, which has been criticised for lack of ambition and hard targets, but things could change quickly with a new government.

Crudgington says: “We need to be more creative and bring forward different sorts of solutions to transport problems, which allow people and businesses to achieve their goals in different ways. 

“We need more interventions that help people avoid the need to travel or don't require construction works – if we can't do that, that’s when we should we be looking at shifting people to alternative modes, improving the performance of vehicles, [and] specifying lower carbon materials. It’s really important to remember that this is about people, where they live, and how they move about, not just technology.”

Read the CIHT manifesto and, in particular, its response to Labour’s commitments for a modern transport network.

Newsletter image: two Volkswagen Golf cars at a charging point in London; credit: Shutterstock.

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