HomeGovernanceDfT publishes decarbonisation pledges

DfT publishes decarbonisation pledges


The Department for Transport (DfT) published both its Transport Decarbonisation Plan and its Rail Environmental Policy Statement on the same day, Wednesday 14 July 2021.

The plan sets out to create cleaner air, healthier communities and tens of thousands of new green jobs by providing a world-leading ‘greenprint’ to cut emissions from seas, skies, roads and railways, while setting out a pathway for the whole transport sector to reach net zero by 2050.

In terms of jobs, the plan estimates that production of zero emission road vehicles alone will have the potential to support tens of thousands of jobs worth up to £9.7 billion GVA in 2050.

On the roads, the DfT intends, subject to consultation, to phase out the sale of new diesel and petrol heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) by 2040, a pledge which adds to the 2035 phase out date for fossil-fuelled cars and vans.

On 23 September 2020, the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell powered commercial-grade aircraft, a Piper M-class six-seater, completed a full flight including taxi, take-off, circuit and landing at Cranfield Airport.

For aviation, the government has launched the ‘Jet zero’ consultation, which commits the sector to a net zero emissions target by 2050 and sets out an action plan for how this can be achieved – ensuring everyone can continue to fly for holidays, visits to family and business without contributing to climate change.

Reflecting the fact the UK aviation industry is already seeking to reduce emissions from flights, the consultation proposes an earlier target for UK domestic aviation to reach net zero by 2040, as well as for all airport operations in England to be zero emission by 2040.

The government has already pledged some £2 billion towards encouraging cycling and walking and £2.8 billion to support industry and motorists to make the switch to cleaner vehicles. In this new Transport Decarbonisation Plan, the government sets out how it will improve public transport and increase support for active travel to make them the natural first choice for all who can take them – creating a net zero rail network by 2050, ensuring net zero domestic aviation emissions by 2040 and leading the transition to green shipping.

Technology deployment recommendations from Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy.

Decarbonising the railways is covered in the main Transport Decarbonisation Plan, and not just in the separate policy statement. “We will deliver a net zero rail network by 2050, with sustained carbon reductions in rail along the way.
Our ambition is to remove all diesel-only trains (passenger and freight) from the network by 2040,” is one of the headlines, while a second reads: “We will deliver an ambitious, sustainable, and cost-effective programme of electrification guided by Network Rail’s TDNS (Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy).”

Where electrification is not feasible or viable, alternative options will be sought. “We are supporting the development of battery and hydrogen trains and will deploy them on the network as we decarbonise,” the plan continues. “We will also use technology to clean up diesel trains until they can be removed altogether.”

The importance of moving freight off roads and onto rail is also recognised. The government plans to introduce a rail freight growth target and incentivise the early take up of low-carbon traction for rail freight.

The Rail Environmental Policy Statement sets out the government’s environmental priorities for the mainline railway. The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail focused on railways within Great Britain, as transport is a devolved area in Northern Ireland. The devolved authorities in Scotland and Wales also have a range of powers in relation to rail which they will continue to exercise, as will TfL and other metropolitan authorities, in relation to rail and light rail in their areas.

The government intends that these devolved and metropolitan authorities will need to work together with Great British Railways to deliver a co-ordinated network across Great Britain. The statement stresses that collaboration across borders will be vital to achieve a sustainable railway.

Infographic from the Rail Environment Policy Statement.
Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport.

In launching the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “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.”

Industry reaction

Darren Caplan, Railway Industry Association.

In response, Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association, said: “The Railway Industry Association and our members welcome today’s publication of the Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan, setting out its strategy of how transport will reach Net Zero by 2050. We are pleased the Government has done so before the parliamentary recess, helping to reduce uncertainty and enabling rail supply business to digest its findings and make plans over the summer months.

“Publishing these decarbonisation ambitions should mean that rail businesses can plan to invest in skills and capability for the work ahead. Ultimately, we hope the Government’s proposals will help boost green jobs, investment and economic growth across the country, as the country seeks to build back better and cleaner following the Coronavirus pandemic.”

Andy Bagnall, RDG.

Andy Bagnall, director general of the Rail Delivery Group, added: “Taking the train is already one of the greenest ways for people and goods to move around the country and rail companies are eager to work with government to make it even greener.

“In the longer-term, that means a rolling programme of electrifying lines and investing in new battery and hydrogen technology.

“To make it easier for people to get on board with going green now, government should take a ‘polluter pays’ approach when it comes transport taxes like air passenger duty, and reform the rail fares system to encourage more passengers back by making it simpler to use and easier to get a good deal.”

Tim Wood, NPR.

Tim Wood, interim chief executive at Transport for the North, commented: “Addressing the climate emergency through the decarbonisation of our transport network is an urgent priority, and this national plan is to be welcomed. The key will be to translate its aims into action as swiftly as possible.

“As our Decarbonisation Strategy for the North of England is finalised later this year we’re confident that our region will set the pace for climate action and hit our target of near-zero carbon emissions from surface transport by 2045 – ahead of national policy.

“The North is at the cutting edge of green innovation and is perfectly positioned to lead the way on many of the opportunities and initiatives – such as the rollout of electric vehicle charging networks and adoption of hydrogen as a clean fuel. Investment in our region will support the critical Green Economic Revolution and aid the wider levelling-up agenda.

“Publishing the Integrated Rail Plan must now be a priority in order to understand when HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and other major projects such as the Transpennine Route Upgrade and rail electrification will be delivered.”



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