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 Climate Change Committee said in their 2019 progress reportGovernment 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.

In its 2020 progress report 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]

Despite the announcement that the new petrol and diesel cars can’t be sold from 2030, some hybrids will be exempt from the ban until 2035. The detail on this is vague but it is a concern as all hybrids do not have significantly different whole life carbon emissions to conventionally powered cars. Regardless of this fact though, action on transport has been left so late that traffic reduction is essential to deliver the necessary carbon savings for us to fulfil our Paris obligations (to keep the Earth’s warming to within 1.5 degrees).

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 a launched a legal challenge to the second Roads Investment Strategy and are considering challenging the National Policy Statement on National Networks that covers roadbuilding as it is now 6 years old.

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 plan is supposedly going to be published in December or January