Claire Haigh speech at launch of Council for Net Zero Transport

Zemo Partnership EventZemo Partnership News

Fri 02 February 2024 View all news

Zemo's new Executive Director, Claire Haigh, spoke at the February 1st launch of a new Council for Net Zero Transport to be convened by Zemo Partnership. Comprising senior stakeholders will help steer UK transport’s decarbonisation transition as it moves into the crucial delivery phase.

Claire's speech:

I’m very aware that I’m taking over the leadership of Zemo Partnership at a critical time for the net zero agenda.

After more than a decade at the helm Andy Eastlake stepped down last Christmas. If you attended Zemo’s 20th anniversary conference at City Hall last summer, you’ll be aware of the Partnership’s many successes and achievements of the last two decades, a lot of them under Andy’s committed leadership.

So much has been achieved – but there’s so much more to do!

Our world is changing fast.  We are already experiencing the impacts of climate change.  Extreme weather events are now a regular occurrence.  Migration patterns will only rise as more parts of the world become uninhabitable.

At the same time, we are living through a period of heightened geopolitical tension. Conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East are having a direct impact in the form of rising energy bills, higher prices and growing business anxiety about the security of supply chains. 

Our dependence on fossil fuels exacerbates the existential threat of climate change and exposes us to ever increasing risks. 

Which is why it is so crucial that we don’t let up on efforts to reduce GHG emissions.

The UK has a strong track record.  The Climate Change Act of 2008 was the first ever of its kind, and we were the first major economy to commit to Net Zero by 2050.  Businesses have responded because market signals have been clear.  The UK can boast of world leading growth in offshore wind and green energy.

But having been trailblazers we are now being outpaced by our international competitors.  A race is on to win the new green industries.  We must move fast to seize opportunities. An ambitious industrial strategy would act as a catalyst for new technologies and innovation and bring jobs and manufacturing to the UK. 

Above all, it is critical for business and investor confidence that UK commitment to net zero remains unequivocal. 

We have some world leading targets. What we now need is a laser-like focus on delivery.

As a key partner of government, Zemo Partnership has played a central role in accelerating transport to zero emissions since 2003.  Last year I consulted Zemo’s stakeholders on what their priorities were for the net zero agenda. The overwhelming conclusion was that we urgently need to bring the focus to a practical level.  

The phase we are in now is one of implementation and scale-up.  We should celebrate the success of the EV roll-out so far, but big challenges remain if we are to achieve mass market penetration. Integration of transport with energy is critical.  The Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce, hosted by Zemo, was seen to be an excellent initiative that should be built on. 

We need to scale-up zero emissions buses, whilst ensuring that we protect our vital bus networks. We urgently need solutions for freight, but importantly policy must be designed to ensure that SMEs are not penalised.   Crucially, the carbon impact from transport is the sum of all the vehicles on the road.  We must maximise the potential of low carbon renewable fuels.  In the short to medium-term, as a new Zemo report explains, very significant greenhouse gas emissions savings can be achieved by fleets using renewable fuels like biodiesel and HVO.

We cannot plan for net zero transport emissions in isolation from wider policy areas. We must consider air pollution, the implications of roads policy, whole vehicle life cycle emissions.  To quote Lord Stern, climate change is “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. 

In this crucial delivery phase, it is local decision makers who will make many of the key infrastructure decisions. Greater progress on net zero can often be made, at least in the short term, through place-based solutions. It is easier at a regional level to break down government silos and develop integrated strategies for transport, housing, skills and economic development.  We must ensure that local leaders are able to plan and invest for net zero on an integrated long-term basis.

Bringing all these elements together to achieve net zero road transport will be no small task.  A credible and detailed ‘delivery roadmap’ is needed, which Zemo is well placed to develop based on feedback from its cross-sectoral membership and through its working groups.  Zemo’s work with Welsh Government is the start of making this happen.

The new Council for Net Zero Transport will help guide our work, and steer UK transport’s decarbonisation transition as it moves through this crucial delivery phase.  We were delighted that Lord Deben, the former UK environment minister and, until recently, Chair of the Climate Change Committee, has agreed to be the Council’s Chair.

The delivery roadmap will be an invaluable tool to inform policy.  Whatever the outcome of the election, the fundamental challenges remain the same.   At a time of severe strain on public finances and with the country facing protracted cost-of-living and energy crises, the UK’s commitment to net zero must remain unequivocal.  And if we are to maintain support, an equitable approach will be essential. 

Above all we need to win hearts and minds.

The easy wins have happened. The hard yards are yet to come.  More than 8 out of ten people in the UK are concerned about climate change but are unsure what they should do.  We need an informed national public debate on net zero.  The risk is that party-politicking focused on short-term electoral gains will undermine public support.  

The rise of populism threatens an erosion of public debate and our capacity to make difficult decisions. Politically unpalatable choices are avoided, and across the world we are witnessing a growing backlash against green policies. 

But the counter narrative is the correct one.  Chris Skidmore’s review concluded that net zero is the growth opportunity of the 21st century. 

It is vital that we sell the benefits.  Green growth is the only kind of growth possible. The net zero transition will mean cleaner air, better health outcomes, reduced congestion, more equitable access, and enhanced energy security. This is our chance to build a cleaner, safer, fairer future.

A video of the launch event for the Council for Net Zero Transport is available to Zemo members only via the Zemo website members' area here

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