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Transport Decarbonisation Strategy

Volume 812: debated on Wednesday 19 May 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they plan to publish their transport decarbonisation strategy.

My Lords, we are working hard to finalise our bold and ambitious plan to decarbonise transport and expect to publish it shortly. We need to go further and faster to tackle emissions from the transport sector. The transport decarbonisation plan will set out a credible pathway to delivering transport’s contribution to carbon budgets and net zero by 2050.

I am glad that we will hear the details of the decarbonisation policy soon. Do the Government accept expert evidence given to the citizens’ Climate Assembly last year that to reach absolute zero by 2050 there has to be a two-pronged approach to road traffic: vehicle electrification and a reduction in car miles of between 2% and 4% a year? Previous government predictions have been for an increase in car miles. In the light of this new evidence, will the Minister reconsider the Government’s £27 billion road-building programme, which academics have recently criticised as being up to 100 times more carbon intensive than government predictions?

I reassure the noble Baroness that the £27 billion figure is not a road-building programme; it includes operating and maintenance of the strategic road network. She mentioned a two-pronged approach; this Government are taking a three-pronged approach, which we feel is better. The first area is technological improvements; for example, HGVs are very difficult to decarbonise, so we are going to spend £20 million on a zero-emission freight trial. The second area is regulation, where we are going to ban the sale of diesel vehicles from 2030. The third area is new behaviours—a modal shift. How do we get people on to public transport, cycling and walking?

My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend and her department are going further and faster. As part of that process, would they consider being much tougher on diesel hybrid cars, where the emissions are far worse than the manufacturers’ present figures, so that we can get emissions down to the right level?

My noble friend is right that we really must look at these plug-in hybrids and make sure that they do what they say on the tin. On ending the sale of diesel cars and vans in 2030, we will also consult on what zero-emission capability looks like, because some that would be for sale after 2030 could be said to have zero-emission capability—it is up to people to respond to that consultation and tell us what that actually means so that we can get carbon emissions down.

My Lords, battery and fuel cell technologies will both be needed to decarbonise transport. Why are the Government not showing the same leadership to make the UK the world leader in fuel cell technologies as they have shown in developing battery technologies, especially as in the UK we have some of the best scientists in the emerging science of fuel cells? I would be content if the Minister would much rather write to me and put a copy in the Library.

I am very happy to answer that question right here, right now. The Government are a leader in hydrogen; we have invested £121 million in hydrogen innovation, which is supporting a world-class refuelling network which we are looking to expand. We are funding demonstration trials across all modes and driving the development of hydrogen vehicles and the hydrogen production supply chain. In transport alone, we are investing £23 million in various hydrogen interventions. We are going as fast as we can.

I do not think the Minister answered the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on the road investment strategy. Why have the Government not published any assessment of the cumulative traffic and carbon impact of the strategy? Does the Minister accept that the estimated increase in traffic and CO2 emissions will negate 80% of the planned carbon savings from electric vehicles?

We accept that there will have to be a very careful balance between traffic growth and the sorts of vehicles we have on our roads, which is why this Government are very focused on electric vehicles. On road enhancements, carbon is a key consideration in granting approval for new road enhancement programmes. I know that Highways England is a leader in innovation; for example, it uses cement-free concrete in much of its construction. I expect new developments in that area as technology drives innovation and change.

My Lords, new houses being built today are not required to have electric charging points for vehicles. Why not?

My Lords, despite success in introducing hybrid buses in London, outside London 95% of buses in England are still diesel-powered. What will the Government do to introduce hybrid and zero-emission buses and rectify these disappointing figures?

My Lords, the Government are extremely ambitious in this area. We are not even bothering about hybrids—we are going straight for zero-emission vehicles. As part of the £3 billion announced prior to the bus strategy, we will invest to support 4,000 zero-emission buses across the country. In this year alone, we will invest £120 million in zero-emission vehicles, which we expect to support 500 buses. This is in addition to the £50 million we are giving to Coventry for 300 buses. We are making a good start. There is a way to go, but we will have supported 4,000 buses by the end of this Parliament.

My Lords, will my noble friend consider giving local communities much greater freedom to experiment with low-speed zones, road closures and other measures which might really encourage active travel locally? The more centralised system that we have at the moment takes an inordinate amount of time to navigate.

I accept my noble friend’s point, and we have had some good conversations about this in the past. I encourage him to wait for the transport decarbonisation plan; I suspect there will be a bit more about that in it. We want local authorities to take more control over carbon emissions in their area and their local transport strategies.

My Lords, according to the Department for Transport—a tad opportunistically—lockdown provided a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make lasting changes to how we make short journeys. The Minister said this would get people walking, cycling and on to public transport. Can she assure us that transport decarbon-isation will not exploit the new normal to reduce choice by imposing top-down green solutions, often at the expense of car drivers, as we have seen in the recent imposition of low-traffic neighbourhoods by councils despite rank and file community opposition and no consultation?

A low-traffic neighbourhood cannot be introduced without consultation. Indeed, the Secretary of State specifically asked for the guidance to be rewritten very recently to ensure that all local authorities ensure adequate consultation in their communities, including with emergency services, to make sure that low-traffic neighbourhoods are a success.

My Lords, today’s Public Accounts Committee report suggests that the Government have a mountain to climb to achieve zero-emission car ownership. How will the Minister address the practical inequalities of access to charging points for those who do not have driveways or the financial means to install their own charging points?

The noble Baroness highlights one of the key challenges in charging electric vehicles. It is why we have announced that we are investing £1.3 billion to accelerate the rollout of charging infrastructure. We recognise that not all people will be able to have a charger right outside their house; that is why we will work with local authorities and workplaces to provide chargers where we can.

My Lords, I am sure my noble friend is aware of the serious amount of carbon emissions caused by shipping. What discussions have the UK Government had internationally to encourage decarbonisation in this crucial sector?

International maritime emissions do indeed need to be considered. As I think the noble Lord knows, we will include international shipping emissions in our carbon targets going forward in CB6. The Government have published two documents to date: the Maritime 2050 plan and the Clean Maritime Plan back in 2019. On 22 March, we announced the clean maritime demonstration competition—£20 million to fund feasibility studies and trials for zero-emission vessels and ports, some of which I expect to be driven by hydrogen.

My Lords, one of the biggest causes of carbon emissions in west London at the moment is the closure of Hammersmith Bridge, which has turned west London into a car park. Can the Minister move further and faster in reopening Hammersmith Bridge? I suggest a three-pronged approach: getting people together, knocking heads together and sorting it out.

My noble friend raises my very favourite topic, but I reassure him that it is neither my nor the Government’s decision whether to reopen the bridge. It is the decision of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. However, he may be reassured to know that four things need to happen—I will not bore noble Lords with what they are—and they should be completed by the end of June. We will ask the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham to reconsider the continued case for safe operation to see whether we can get this bridge back open by mid-July.