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Sat, 28 March 2020

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To reach net-zero by 2050, the Government must prioritise decarbonising transport

To reach net-zero by 2050, the Government must prioritise decarbonising transport
4 min read

We have been a global leader in decarbonising the power sector, but with road transport accounting for around a fifth of all emissions, we must now focus on decarbonsing transport, writes Damian Hinds MP. 

Tackling climate change is a defining challenge of our age.  The developed world, with our higher per-capita emissions, have a greater responsibility.  We had our industrial revolution first – so it is right we should be ahead on decarbonising, too. I was proud last year when the UK became the first major economy to commit in legislation to net-zero.

The UK has been leading the G20 nations on decarbonisation.  But to reach our net zero target we will have to accelerate further.  The Committee on Climate Change has said that 2050 is the latest point by which the UK must reach net zero to maintain our leadership position, but the earliest that is credible and realistic. It will be hard to do, but we must do it.

Thus far, our decarbonisation success has been primarily (though not only) about the power sector, where dramatic change has been achieved. Further improvements here are tougher, given the intermittent nature of wind and sun, and the current limitations of battery storage (though that part at least will change over time).

The success with power has also meant it is no longer the biggest category of emissions. Transport is now the biggest source, and so the top priority for our de-carbonisation acceleration challenge.

Progress is being made. There is a growing electric bus fleet, and London’s iconic Black Cab fleet is among the most rapidly decarbonising in the world.  In 2018, the UK had Europe’s third largest electric van fleet, and the e-cargo bike programme has been a good innovation.

Since 1990, there has been a small reduction in GHG emissions from UK international shipping, and a bigger fall for UK domestic shipping. International aviation has been harder: efficiency has improved, but total emissions have still grown – but there is now drawn up a carbon-offsetting programme. In both cases, the UK government takes a leading role in the international bodies that oversee them – more must be done.

But road transport accounts for around a fifth of all emissions, and passenger cars account for over half of transport emissions.  For HGVs, hydrogen may in time present the best decarbonisation opportunity; for cars, the technology for strong-performance electric battery vehicles is there now, and the number of models is increasing all the time.

In 2018, the UK was Europe’s second largest market for ultra-low emission cars, fourth largest for battery electric cars; and a fifth of all battery electric cars sold in Europe were UK-made. The growth rate is huge – but it is from a small base.

While further improvements in range and performance will continue to drive growth, there is another change that has already happened that could really rapid-charge this market.

Up to now, electric cars have been somewhat hampered by the ‘front loading’ of cost – that is to say, while they are much cheaper per mile to run, they cost more in the first place. But fewer people these days are “buying” a car. With the growing popularity of leasing or ‘personal contract hire’, like-for-like cost comparisons become easier – and better for electric.

In this debate I want us to acknowledge the progress that is being made, but challenge on what can be done further, across all the transport modes, and especially road. While a lot of the development is for the automotive sector to do (and they have a good incentive, having invested a lot in electric car manufacturing capacity), there are a number of things government can make happen, either directly or through its convening power. 

The UK government has long played a leading role in driving international agreements and progress, and has a key role, too, through its International Development work. But leadership requires domestic action first and foremost. We have done that thus far, and especially on power – now we must focus that drive and can-do to decarbonising transport. 

There are many groups that have a key, shared interest in this agenda: government, councils, MPs, the automotive sector, civic society and charities working on both climate change and cleaner air.  We can achieve so much more when we work together. 


Damian Hinds is the Consrvative Member of Parliament for East Hampshire. 


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