Department for Transport failings

Climate Change is the elephant in the room when it comes to transport.  It is the one area consistently ignored by the Department for Transport (DfT) as it suggests that the increase in emissions that arises from new roads and the traffic they generate is so insignificant it can be covered by other measures.  Unfortunately, the evidence is showing this to be wrong.  Transport emissions continue to grow and as the Committee on Climate Change said in their 2019 progress report: Government continues to be off track for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets – on their own appraisal – and the policy gap has widened further this year as an increase in the projection of future emissions has outweighed the impact of new policies.

The Committee has now submitted its 2020 progress report where it said: It is 12 months since Net Zero became law, requiring the UK to reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases to zero by 2050. Initial steps towards a net-zero policy package have been taken, but this was not the year of policy progress that the Committee called for in 2019.

Significantly it said: Public money should not support industries or infrastructure in a way that is not consistent with the future net-zero economy or that increase exposure to climate risks. And went on to say three times that broadband should be invested in before road building, although stopped short of calling for an outright halt to the roads programme.

Surface transport is now the largest emitting sector in the UK, accounting for 24% of all emissions in 2019. Surface transport is also the only sector (other than international aviation and shipping) where emissions have grown since 1990 (figure 1.4, page 49, Committee on Climate Change: Net Zero The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming).

The same report also recommends a:

Shift away from car travel:

  • Moving from car travel onto other modes of transport (walking, cycling and public
    transport) is an effective way of reducing emissions from vehicles and also results in less
    time spent in congestion and health benefits from more physical activity.
  • Ricardo’s 2013 estimates found that a 5% shift in travel from cars to other modes resulted
    in a monetised annual benefit of 0.5% of GDP in 2030.
  • Our net-zero scenarios assume a 10% transport modal shift, which suggests benefits by
    2050 would be greater. [p240]

The successful legal challenge on Heathrow has raised a number of important issues which has implication far beyond air travel and airports.  That is why we have written to Grant Shapps calling on him to review the National Networks National Policy Statement (NNNPS), halt the Roads Investment Strategy 2, review the appraisal process and pause all road schemes currently under consideration.  We are currently waiting for a High Court date for our challenge to RIS2 and await a decision by Grant Shapps on whether to review the NNNPS.

At the end of March 2020, the DfT released a paper: Decarbonisation transport: setting the challenge, where Grant Shapps said: “Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network.” amongst a number of other positive statements.  However, the timetable for developing a strategy is tight and doesn’t allow for consultation on an actual draft plan.

The DfT recently issued an update on progress on the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, reporting back on the workshops it held over the summer. We’re suggesting people look at these and check they are an accurate reflection of what was discussed as we’re not sure how accurate the comments on road building are. Context is everything sometimes.

A Guide to Local Authority action

While much action needs to happen at a national level to achieve the increasingly urgent cuts that need to happen if we are to meet net-zero carbon by 2050 and likely sooner, there is still much that can be done at a local level to achieve positive change.

We have teamed up with Stephen Joseph OBE (former chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport and now a freelance transport consultant) to produce a briefing for local authorities on the many things they can do to reduce car use and increase use of sustainable transport.  The document is work in progress so feel free to contact us with any suggestions for improvements or new ideas.

thumbnail of Climate Emergency Plan – Transport-Version 6

The Local Government Association has also produced seven briefings, developed with experts from the University of Leeds, on how to decarbonise transport, to help local authorities deliver on net-zero.

Further Reading

It is also well worth reading some of the many briefing papers that Transport for Quality of Life has produced for Friends of the Earth on transport and climate change that explore some of the issues in more detail.  One of the latest papers is: A radical transport response to a climate emergency