A laser like focus on net zero delivery (Article by Claire Haigh for Transport Times)

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Thu 27 June 2024 View all news

(Reproduction of article by Zemo Partnership Executive Director, Claire Haigh for Transport Times.) 

The imperative to deliver on net zero presents the world with its greatest long-term challenge and its greatest opportunity.  Whoever wins the keys to Downing Street on the 4th July the fundamental challenges remain the same.  Our dependence on fossil fuels exacerbates the existential threat of climate change and exposes us to ever increasing risks. 

The UK has a strong track record on tackling climate change.  However, in recent times there has been a certain softening or nuancing of political support for net zero and an unhelpful narrative has crept into the media.  This has had a direct impact on confidence and is undermining public support.  The National Infrastructure Commission recently concluded that U-turns over net zero have created uncertainty and delayed progress. 

Transport is a big part of the problem but also a big part of the solution.  We have some world leading targets.  What we urgently now need is a laser like focus on delivery. 

As a key partner of government, Zemo Partnership has played a central role in decarbonising transport since 2003.  Zemo uniquely brings government, industry and experts together and is well placed to develop the much needed delivery roadmap for net zero transport.  To oversee this work we have convened a new independent Council for Net Zero Transport, chaired by Lord Deben, former Climate Change Committee Chair.

There is a strong feeling across Zemo’s members that the UK needs to double down on net zero policies.  An ambitious industrial strategy would act as a catalyst for new technologies and innovation and bring jobs and manufacturing to the UK.  Greater focus is needed on UK strengths and homegrown industries, but wider alignment will be essential to ensure market access internationally.  The issue of the UK/EU relationship into the future will need to be a key priority for the next government. 

The net zero transition isn’t optional. The more we delay, the more the transition is going to cost, and the more adaptive measures we are going to have to put in place.  The cost of insurance and all other costs will rise.  Not spending now makes it more expensive in the long run.  This has been clear ever since Lord Stern’s seminal review in 2006.  Businesses understand that and crave policy certainty from government.  A long term approach to planning and investment in infrastructure will be critical. 

We need to show how net zero transition is a positive economic story, providing new skills, jobs and business opportunities.  Clearer communications are needed with the public, for example on how smart metering can save people money.  We must capitalize on the co-benefits of cleaner air, better health outcomes, reduced congestion, greater prosperity and enhanced energy security.

We must ensure a fair and just transition to net zero.  EVs must be accessible to all, and good public transport options should be available for households without access to a car. The net zero transition must not threaten jobs and livelihoods. We must avoid unintended consequences which is why it is vital that we put a spotlight on any potential dangers and trigger points in the delivery roadmap.

There is no silver bullet.  A multipath approach is needed. We won’t reach net zero by clean technologies alone.  Behaviour change and a level of traffic reduction will also be required.  We need to encourage modal switch to sustainable modes for both passengers and freight.  On clean technologies, in addition to battery electric vehicles, hybrid, low carbon renewable fuels, hydrogen fuel cell and hydrogen ICE all have a role to play. 

We cannot plan for net zero transport in isolation from wider policy areas. We must consider air pollution, the implications of roads policy, whole life cycle emissions.  Climate change has been described as “the biggest market failure the world has ever seen”.  At the root of this is a failure to price properly for carbon. 

We need to think more holistically about how we maximise the efficiency of our transport system.  We need a cross-party agreement to look at new ways of paying for road use that replace lost fuel duty as the fleet electrifies.  Unless we address the cost structures, we are baking in rising traffic growth and congestion at the cost of more beneficial alternatives.

Above all it is vital that we sell the benefits.  Net zero must be understood as a massive opportunity for UK PLC. At a time of severe strain on the public finances and rising geopolitical tensions and with the country facing protracted cost of living and energy crises the UK’s commitment to net zero must remain unequivocal.

Zemo Partnership Summit, October 3rd 2024, One Birdcage Walk, Westminster: With a new UK Government in place and increased ambition for transport decarbonisation, the Zemo Partnership Summit is a must-attend event for organisations with a stake in road transport and those who want to play a part in shaping our transport future. Find out more

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