A decarbonised destination missing the map

By - World Infrastructure Journal

A decarbonised destination missing the map

‘A better, greener Britain’ was announced today as part of the government’s holistic strategy to decarbonise transport which set out its grand ambition of reaching net zero across the whole system by 2050. However, with a lack of specificity, the road to get there remains unclear.

As the largest emitting sector within the UK and accounting for around a fifth of global emissions, it is crucial that transport is decarbonised if the climate crisis is to be overcome. Yet it is important to recognise that not all transport is equal, with road emissions being the largest polluter across the world and so the government’s latest release of a tailored approach across the sector, is a welcome move.

New government plans include:

  • £2 billion investment into cycling and walking into cycling and walking
  • Deliver 4,000 new zero emission buses
  • Deliver the first all-electric Bus Town or City
  • Make 100 per cent of government car and van fleets zero-emission by 2027 – three years earlier than originally planned
  • Invest more than £12 billion in local transport systems over this Parliament’s term

Yet as with many sustainability policy announcements with ambitious goals, the vague nature of the content leaves it somewhat disappointing. Whether it be "delivering a green bus revolution" or "delivering an ambitious programme of [rail] electrification", the ‘strategy’ leaves perhaps too much to the imagination.

This is especially true within the rail sector which as one of the least emitting industries, is ideally placed to lead the path towards a decarbonised transport system. However, it still has a long way to go in terms of fully decarbonising the network and this is something the private sector is well aware of. The goals to "reach net zero by 2050", "remove all diesel only trains by 2040" and "use tech to clean up diesel trains" fail to give any more assistance to those already working towards these aims in the industry.

New deadlines by government are arbitrary if the investment into the technology and infrastructure to successfully meeting these dates is not outlined alongside. This strategy must be the first step in a long-term plan of action that sets out incremental, clear and specific aims and support systems between government and industry to ensure that decarbonisation is successfully achieved.

While decarbonisation is undoubtedly a major challenge, it also presents a unique opportunity. Specifically, the growth of new industries and the necessary revolutionary innovation within most sectors will greatly benefit the economy. This new strategy explained that producing zero emission road vehicles could add £9.7bn GVA from job growth alone in 2050. This comes after recent government discussions with six vehicle manufacturers into the potential of building ‘gigafactory’ electric car battery plants.

The announcement of this strategy as the "world’s first ‘greenprint’ to decarbonise" fails to live up to the extent of its promise but it does show commitment to the right direction – just perhaps not the steps to get to the destination. The government does, however, remain enthusiastic about its potential and the ability of the UK to lead the way in decarbonising the transport system.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Transport is not just how you get around. It is something that fundamentally shapes our towns, cities and countryside, our living standards and our health. It can shape all those things for good or for bad. Decarbonisation is not just some technocratic process. It’s about how we make sure that transport shapes quality of life and the economy in ways that are good.

It’s not about stopping people doing things: it’s about doing the same things differently. We will still fly on holiday, but in more efficient aircraft, using sustainable fuel. We will still drive, but increasingly in zero emission cars.

The Transport decarbonisation plan is just the start – we will need continued efforts and collaboration to deliver its ambitious commitments, which will ultimately create sustainable economic growth through healthier communities as we build back greener.

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