The government's transport decarbonisation plan


The government has published its transport decarbonisation plan, setting out a pathway for the whole transport sector to reach net zero by 2050.

In March 2020, the government said it would publish a transport decarbonisation plan to deliver transport’s contribution to carbon budgets and net zero across all forms of transport. That plan has now been published and sets out its aim for the whole transport sector to reach net zero by 2050.

Launching the plan, transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the plan was “genuinely high ambition – technically and feasibly – for all areas of transport and notes that decarbonisation will rely, in part, on future transport technology, coupled with the necessary behavioural and societal change.”

Some fleet and transport operators have argued that the plan is too reliant on advancements in technology, and that it still lacks detail in real terms, but the general view is that the commitments made in the plan are what is needed to address climate change.

The Transport decarbonisation plan says it will consult on a phase out date for heavy duty vehicles, as well as how it will improve public transport, increase support for active travel, create a net zero rail network by 2050, ensure net zero domestic aviation emissions by 2040 and transition to green shipping.

Greening HGVs

As part of the plan, the government has announced its intention to phase out the sale of new diesel and petrol heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) by 2040, subject to consultation. In more detail, the consultation proposes a 2035 phase out date for vehicles weighing from 3.5 to 26 tonnes and 2040 for vehicles weighing more than 26 tonnes – or earlier if a faster transition seems feasible.

The strategy says it will demonstrate zero emission HGV technology on UK roads this year, and that it will stimulate demand for zero emission trucks through financial and non-financial incentives.

Regarding the existing HGV fleet, it says it will support efficiency improvements and emission reductions.

Encouraging a shift of freight from road to more sustainable alternatives, such as rail, cargo bike and inland waterways, is also stated in the plan.

In getting transport to net zero, hydrogen will need to play its part. As such, the plan says it will publish an overarching Hydrogen Strategy in summer 2021, which will focus on the increased production of hydrogen and use across the economy, including for transport.

Elizabeth de Jong, director of policy at Logistics UK, said: “The Transport decarbonisation plan will help to provide logistics businesses with confidence and clarity on the steps they must take on the pathway to net zero. Consultation on proposed phase out dates for new diesel HGVs should enable business to move forwards with confidence. Rail, shipping and aviation are all essential parts of logistics, so plans to support freight modal shift and develop technologies to reduce emissions across these modes are welcome.”

Sandy Parsonage, Director of Supply Chain and Logistics for Sainsbury’s, which is a principal sponsor of COP26, said: “We welcome the government’s ambition and look forward to engaging with the consultation. We are already working across our supply chain to explore alternative fuels and develop a zero carbon fleet of the future. At the same time, we’re investing to reduce the emissions across our current fleet. This ambition will accelerate efforts to develop the technologies the UK needs to achieve net zero.”

Framework for manufacturers
Alongside the strategy, the government has published a green paper setting out the regulatory framework requiring vehicle manufacturers to improve the fuel efficiency of new cars, vans and HGVs, enabling the country to meet its phase out dates while creating new jobs for the automotive sector and delivering certainty for drivers. This includes consulting on the possible introduction of a new phased industry mandate for zero emission vehicles.

The government is also publishing a 2035 delivery plan, which brings together all of the measures for decarbonising cars and vans, from across government, into a single document. It outlines the key timelines, milestones and how progress towards the commitment to deliver mass ownership of zero emission cars and vans will be monitored.

This follows recent investments from car manufacturer Nissan to produce its new-generation electric vehicle in Sunderland, alongside Envision’s new Gigafactory, as well as Stellantis’s investment in Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port manufacturing plant to transform the site for a new era in electric vehicle manufacturing.

Greener aviation
The strategy has said that it will consult on a Jet Zero strategy, which will set out the steps it will take to reach net zero aviation emissions by 2050. It will consult on a target for UK domestic aviation to reach net zero by 2040.

Emma Gilthorpe, COO of Heathrow and Jet Zero Council CEO, said: “I welcome the leadership from government in committing to a target of net zero emissions from aviation by 2050 and recognising that the aviation industry is committed to delivering on this, too. We look forward to working with government to translate this ambition to action and deliver a future where people can continue to enjoy the benefits of air travel – without worrying about their impact on the environment.”

Greg Archer, UK Director of the Europe-wide green transport campaign group Transport & Environment, said: “To ensure the UK meets its climate targets, the government will need to convert its raft of new proposals into measures that rapidly change how people and goods move. More difficult decisions to reduce vehicle use and flying and reallocate spending towards green transport options will be needed, but this plan signifies a commendable and substantial shift in the right direction.

Graeme Cooper, head of future markets at National Grid, said: “This is the first zero emissions transport mandate for a major economy and is a great opportunity ahead of COP26 to show the UK’s commitment to clean transport and clean air. The government has already committed significant investment for EV charging infrastructure and this announcement will be a further boost, giving the industry and consumers clarity and confidence for the road ahead, not just for cars but other forms of transport too, including heavy goods vehicles.”
Making progress
The Climate Change Committee has been analysing the government’s progress to reaching net zero. Mike Thompson, the Climate Change Committee’s chief economist, said: “We’re pleased to see another step forward in the Government’s commitment to deliver a Net Zero UK. The Transport Decarbonisation Plan and aviation consultation are two of seven key strategies that we highlighted in our recent progress report as overdue. The overall ambition, including phasing out the sale of diesel trucks by 2040 and Net Zero aviation by 2050, looks in line with our recommendations.

“We are particularly pleased to see proposals for a Zero Emission Vehicle mandate, which we’ve recommended as key to reducing emissions from UK transport since the Net Zero target was set. Meeting Net Zero will require action on demand for transport as well as its supply. As ever, the devil will be in the detail and we look forward to scrutinising the Government’s proposals fully and carefully while we await delivery of other key roadmaps on heating, hydrogen, food, biomass, the Treasury’s Net Zero Review, and the Government’s overall Net Zero Strategy.”

Greening the government fleet
The government also announced that it has brought forward the target date for the whole central government fleet of 40,000 cars and vans to be fully zero emission by 2027, three years earlier than previously planned.

It will also publish its response to the electric vehicle smart charging consultation, committing to laying legislation later this year to ensure that all new private EV chargepoints meet smart charging standards.