Parliamentarians, senior civil servants, local leaders and industry say the priority now for net zero must be delivery. Zemo can help
The technology roadmap for zero emission local bus was a significant step forward
BY Claire Haigh
Earlier this year the International Panel on Climate Change issued its final warning for a critical decade. Global greenhouse emissions must be reduced by 43% by 2030, and the IPCC’s final synthesis report laid bare just how far off track the world is. Massive effort is now needed if we are to avoid the catastrophic consequences of runaway climate change.
The UK has a strong track record on net zero having been the first advanced economy in the world to commit to net zero emissions by 2050. However, it risks being outpaced. Hugely consequential decisions are being made by the US, EU and China, which pose challenges for its global competitiveness. It is vital that the UK moves fast to decarbonise at the pace and scale required, and to seize the opportunities presented by the net zero transition.
Transport is the fastest growing source of global GHG and the biggest polluting sector in the UK economy
Transport is the fastest growing source of global GHG and the biggest polluting sector in the UK economy. At 90% of all domestic transport emissions in the UK, road transport is a major chunk of the problem. Since its inception in 2003 Zemo Partnership has played a key role in this critical sector, uniquely bringing together the forces of the automotive sector with the forces of government to achieve the shared ambition to decarbonise road transport.
To coincide with Zemo’s 20th anniversary, I was asked to undertake an independent review of the partnership. I consulted with 86 parliamentarians, senior civil servants, local leaders and industry on priorities for net zero transport and how Zemo can most effectively support the agenda through this critical next phase.
The priority now is delivery
The overwhelming feedback was that the priority now for net zero must be delivery. It was felt that whilst the UK has some good strategies in place, it is vital to get the right policies in place to enable the investment that will deliver the transition to zero carbon technologies, and reliable funding to enable the supply chain transition. Crucially, there are significant implementation challenges to be tackled.
EVs have moved into their delivery phase but supply chain issues are affecting availability and lack of charging infrastructure is a serious barrier. Moreover, EVs are too expensive and out of reach for many consumers, particularly those without off-street parking. Equity issues must be addressed, or the risk is that net zero will come to be seen as a middle-class project. A quarter of households and half of workless households have no access to a car.
The integration of the transport and energy sectors will be critical. This will require a whole system approach and major reinforcements to the grid. It will involve the synchronisation of activities between National Grid, DSOs, EV charging infrastructure, EV manufacturers, policy-makers, financial services, funding bodies, local authorities, and anything else that is related to street works and lamppost installations.
Bringing the right people together will be vital for delivering the EV transition. The Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce was seen to be an excellent initiative and should be built on. Zemo’s convening power was cited as a major benefit. Zemo is also in a unique position because sitting between government and industry, dual funded, it is unbiased by any particular entity or interest and performs the role of honest broker.
The technology roadmap for zero emission local bus was a significant step forward. What is now needed is a costed roadmap for making the transition
The technology roadmap for zero emission local bus was a significant step forward. What is now needed is a costed roadmap for making the transition. Much greater policy certainty is needed for bus manufacturing and the supply chain. Zemo is seen to have a crucial role to play in providing quality impartial analysis on carbon and cost aspects of electric bus roll-out, how to mitigate risks, and how to overcome constraints arising from installing the charging infrastructure.
The structure of the freight industry presents challenges for net zero, being wholly private and including many SMEs. Lack of clear policy direction on what the future technology should be is also holding up the transition. However, emissions need to be reduced now. Zemo’s work on low carbon fuels has been vitally important. As one participant observed: “The only time we saw a big step forward was when the RTFO [Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation]was introduced in 2016-18 and then when we brought in E10”.
There are divergent views. Some argue that we should move as quickly as possible to electrify trucks and avoid using low carbon fuels, because that would risk locking in fossil fuels. Others argue that electrification won’t work for long distance trucks, and that low carbon fuels will be an essential part of the transition. Zemo is seen to be well-positioned to provide a balanced view and effectively do for the HGV sector what it has successfully done for the bus sector.
A holistic approach is needed
A key theme was the need to consider wider environmental aspects. It is not sufficient to focus on carbon emissions in isolation, we also need to consider air pollution from NOx emissions, non-exhaust emissions from tyres and the environmental impact of batteries. It is also felt that there is too much focus on tailpipe emissions rather consideration of the whole life-cycle, and too little focus on the carbon in our roads and transport infrastructure.
Decarbonisation of transport will require changes to the wider economy and should be aligned with future investment plans. Many observed that the current tax structure isn’t fit for purpose for a zero emission world. We need an honest conversation about road pricing. There needs to be an agreement cross-party to look at a new way of paying for road use that replaces lost fuel duty and incentivises more efficient use of our roads.
Many respondents highlighted the need to reduce vehicle miles. We need to deliver modal switch for both passengers and freight
Many respondents highlighted the need to reduce vehicle miles. We need to deliver modal switch for both passengers and freight. This could be achieved through greater support for walking and cycling, investment in zero carbon bus and train services, and reducing the need to travel. For deliveries we could support more micro-hubs to support the reduction in emissions locally through greater use of cargo-bikes.
There are significant divergences in policy on net zero between the UK Government and the devolved administrations. One of the notable differences is the level of ambition in terms of reducing vehicle mileage and demand management. Closer engagement and co-operation on the net zero agenda is needed. It is felt that Zemo, with its wide membership base of businesses operating across the UK, could be a useful convenor of increased collaborative working.
In this critical delivery phase, it was felt that focus must turn to local decision-makers who will make many of the key transport infrastructure and investment decisions. Often more progress on net zero can be made in the short term at the regional and local level as it is easier to break down the silos of government and develop integrated net zero strategies for housing, transport, employment and skills.
Seizing the opportunities
A key question playing out right now is, who will win the new green industries? The key conclusion of Chris Skidmore’s independent review was that net zero is the growth opportunity of the 21st century. The UK has historically been a world leader in this space but is currently distracted by domestic politics. We are moving into election territory which presents both risks and opportunities. Labour has put net zero as central to its election pitch and has committed £28bn for a green industrial policy.
It was felt by many participants that the UK needs an ambitious industrial strategy, to act as catalyst for new technologies and innovation, shorten supply chains and bring production to the UK. One of the biggest problems cited was the lack of government direction and focus. Rather than setting the overall direction the current stance is to be agnostic on future technologies. Manufacturers are not clear on the direction so are investing abroad.
As a respected, authoritative and trusted ‘honest broker’, Zemo could have a central role to play. As one participant put it: “If ever there was a need for Zemo it’s now!”
The green economy is the fastest growing part of the UK economy. There is seen to be a huge opportunity for business in building the case for innovation and investment in the UK. How do we align net zero with business efficiency, modernisation, and green growth? As a respected, authoritative and trusted ‘honest broker’, Zemo could have a central role to play. As one participant put it: “If ever there was a need for Zemo it’s now!”
As we move forward in this critical delivery phase it was widely agreed that what is missing is a credible and detailed delivery roadmap. Zemo is seen to be uniquely well-placed to develop such a roadmap. The fact that government already has a pathway is seen to be very positive. The opportunity is for Zemo to provide a ‘deep-dive’, evidence-based roadmap, with cross-sectoral input, to provide a catalyst for the necessary action and policy changes.
There are doubtless opportunities for UK PLC, and if that helps to galvanise the right decisions then that’s all to the good. However, above all emissions must come down. The 1.5 degrees limit is still just achievable, but it will take a quantum leap in climate action.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Claire Haigh is vice-chair of Zemo Partnership. She is also the founder and CEO of Greener Vision, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the switch to a greener future.
This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.
DON’T MISS OUT – GET YOUR COPY! – click here to subscribe!