Industry reaction to the Transport Decarbonisation Plan is mixed

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Unsurprisingly, reaction to the publication of the Government’s Transport Decarbonisation plan, published today, is mixed.

While welcomed by some industry key players, other responses tend to be of a ‘yes, but’ nature, illustrating the challenge that Grant Shapps has in delivering the plan, while winning ‘hearts and minds’ of the sceptical and those who simply want taxpayers to fund much of the change.

Initial responses

The first responses [below] are contained in the Government’s official press release from the Department for Transport:

Elizabeth de Jong, Director of Policy at Logistics UK, said: “The Transport decarbonisation plan will help to provide logistics businesses with confidence and clarity on the steps they must take on the pathway to net zero. Consultation on proposed phase out dates for new diesel HGVs should enable business to move forwards with confidence. Rail, shipping and aviation are all essential parts of logistics, so plans to support freight modal shift and develop technologies to reduce emissions across these modes are welcome.

“With logistics already embracing the need to decarbonise its operations, Logistics UK looks forward to working in partnership with the government on future action and strategies to realise the net zero ambition together.”

Sandy Parsonage, Director of Supply Chain and Logistics for Sainsbury’s, which is a principal sponsor of COP26, said: “We welcome the government’s ambition and look forward to engaging with the consultation. We are already working across our supply chain to explore alternative fuels and develop a zero carbon fleet of the future. At the same time, we’re investing to reduce the emissions across our current fleet. This ambition will accelerate efforts to develop the technologies the UK needs to achieve net zero.”

Emma Gilthorpe, COO of Heathrow and Jet Zero Council CEO, said: “I welcome the leadership from government in committing to a target of net zero emissions from aviation by 2050 and recognising that the aviation industry is committed to delivering on this, too. We look forward to working with government to translate this ambition to action and deliver a future where people can continue to enjoy the benefits of air travel – without worrying about their impact on the environment.”

Greg Archer, UK Director of the Europe-wide green transport campaign group Transport & Environment, said: “This plan is a milestone in the shift to a more sustainable UK transport system. The decision to only use zero emission road vehicles – including trucks – by 2050 is world-leading and will significantly reduce Britain’s climate impact and improve the air we breathe. This complements the goal of net zero internal UK flights by 2040, although there is much more to do to tackle international aviation emissions.

“To ensure the UK meets its climate targets, the government will need to convert its raft of new proposals into measures that rapidly change how people and goods move. More difficult decisions to reduce vehicle use and flying and reallocate spending towards green transport options will be needed, but this plan signifies a commendable and substantial shift in the right direction.”

Graeme Cooper, Head of Future Markets at National Grid, said: “This is the first zero emissions transport mandate for a major economy and is a great opportunity ahead of COP26 to show the UK’s commitment to clean transport and clean air. The government has already committed significant investment for EV charging infrastructure and today’s announcement will be a further boost, giving the industry and consumers clarity and confidence for the road ahead, not just for cars but other forms of transport too, including heavy goods vehicles.”

BVRLA Chief Executive Gerry Keaney said: “We welcome the publication of these plans, which provides a clearer picture of where we are and where we need to get to on the road to net zero. BVRLA members will play a vital role in this journey, enabling millions of individuals and businesses to embrace zero emission road transport and switch to more sustainable forms of mobility. There will be many important milestones along the way and we will continue to work with government and other stakeholders in achieving them.”

Further responses from the industry and campaign groups present a mixed picture and often include a ‘but’:

Gas Vehicle Network, Director of External Affairs, Isaac Occhipinti said: “We welcome the Government’s proposal to end the sale of diesel polluting HGVs given their disproportionately high rate of emissions and the associated impacts on air quality due to air pollutants. However, we are concerned that an unintended consequence of this policy is that it will also encompass HGVs potentially running on biomethane, a renewable fuel produced 100% from waste that can already be certified as carbon neutral. Banning a carbon neutral fuel which is available 30 years in advance of the UK’s net zero target would be a highly retrograde step which will not deliver on the overarching ambitious aims of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan.”

“Industry statistics show that use of biomethane as a transport fuel is growing rapidly in this sector. In 2020, 93% of the total gas fuel dispensed for HGVs was in fact renewable biomethane. The latest Government’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation [RTFO] stats show that biomethane used in HGVs was up from 80% in 2019, an increase of over 16% in a year. This also follows a 78% increase in sales of renewable gas as a transport fuel during 2020.

Isaac Occhipinti added: “Mr Shapps recognises that ‘Cleaner transport will create and support highly skilled jobs, with the production of zero emission road vehicles alone having the potential to support tens of thousands of jobs in the UK’. Renewable gas as a transport fuel is evidently already creating jobs as the industry is already well established.  Not only is biomethane reducing carbon emissions today it is also capable of transporting the UK to Net Zero 2050. Rather than banning a successful, ‘no regrets’ carbon neutral fuel available now and gambling on as-of-yet ‘undeveloped alternatives’, the Transport Secretary should back biomethane well beyond 2040.”

GVN recently published a paper ‘A Green Recovery- Delivering a rapid & cost-effective CO₂ reduction for Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs)

RHA supports decarbonising trucks – but not like this…

The RHA is criticising Government over its plans for decarbonising the UK’s truck fleet. The association supports the eventual aim but says the plan is speculative, potentially damaging to business, and short on detail.

RHA Chief Executive, Richard Burnett said in response to the Government’s Transport Decarbonisation plan: “This proposal as it stands is unrealistic. These alternative HGVs don’t yet exist – we don’t know when they will and what they will cost.  

“It’s also not clear what any transition will look like – this is blue skies aspiration. For many haulage companies there are fears around cost of new vehicles and a collapse in resale value of existing lorries. The problem is even worse for coaches, which are more expensive to buy and have longer lifecycles.“

“We support investment in vehicles to deliver Net Zero, but it requires coherent, affordable and inclusive market-driven policies. Decarbonisation policies must support a thriving commercial vehicle sector to ensure the UK has a vibrant economy supporting people and businesses.

“The needs of SME businesses must be at the heart of Government ambitions. SMEs ensure the goods and services consumers demand are delivered affordably and on time. These are ordinary people without deep pockets who want to do the right thing.”

The RHA says that its policy and position is:

  1. We support the policy ambition to decarbonise the UK economy and within it the commercial vehicle fleet. We also recognise the deeply complex nature of the challenge which we are addressing based on two starting points:

    a. Our approach is guided by sustainability values which recognise that economic needs must be nurtured alongside environmental and social needs. As economic enablers, commercial vehicle operators drive economic well-being and are willing to invest in environmental well-being.

    b. For a successful transition away from diesel the right policy frameworks must be in place. Key to this is recognising and respecting asset lifecycles so that waste and the “stranded asset” risk for second-hand vehicles is avoided.
  1. We are committed to working through the decarbonation issues with Government and our partners, which will include overcoming formidable barriers such as infrastructure provision and re-skilling the workforce in the new technologies if ministerial Net Zero ambitions are to be achieved.
  1. We are very concerned that a repeat of the well-intended but ill-conceived Clean Air Zone (CAZ) policy is avoided as the Government formulates its decarbonisation plans. CAZ undermined sustainability principles by ignoring crucial economic considerations – specifically:

    a. by linking CAZ compliance to the Euro VI diesel standard, the Government undermined the second-hand asset values of non-Euro VI diesel vehicles;

    b. by failing to phase in CAZ compliance as the market supply of the required Euro VI HGVs allowed, a supply shortage was created creating price inflation. Together with the asset devaluation, this twin-hit disrupted business investment decisions and consequential vehicle replacement cycles.

We regret that the ‘stranded asset’ phenomenon caused by CAZ policy prematurely wiped £1.2bn off the second-hand value of the Euro V fleet of HGVs (94,000 HGVs; 18% of the overall UK HGV fleet).”

The RHA policy paper (published April 2021) on decarbonising the commercial vehicle sector can be found here.

Tom Bartošák-Harlow, Head of External Relations, CPT UK: “With cars and taxis contributing 55% of transport’s greenhouse gas emissions we need urgent action to reduce car journeys if we want to be on track to deliver net zero by 2050. 

“Today’s plan is an opportunity to begin that work by focusing on cross government policies that get people out of their cars and onto buses and coaches, which has an immediate impact in reducing carbon emissions. We also need to see measures that discourage car use including measures such as transparent road pricing schemes that can reward sustainable travel choices fairly reflecting their environmental impact.

“The industry is committed to moving towards zero emission fleets but this must be as part of a realistic long-term roadmap, alongside sufficient funding, so operators can plan their investments accordingly.”

Volta Trucks calls for greater ambition in the UK Government Transport Decarbonisation Plan. The leading and disruptive full-electric commercial vehicle manufacturer and services provider, has issued a guarded welcome to the publication of the UK Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan, but has called for a greater level of ambition to tackle the climate and air quality emergency faced by the environment. 

Maria Machancoses, CEO of Midlands Connect, said: “This decisive strategy is what we’ve been waiting for, and demonstrates Government’s commitment to building a cleaner, greener and more sustainable transport network. Policymakers must now work with industry and the private sector to develop a comprehensive delivery plan to make sure change happens.”

HGVs: “Now we know the plan, we must take action to accelerate the roll out of alternative fuels, and install the infrastructure needed to support a commercial fleet of hydrogen, biofuel and electric vehicles. Come 2040 we will need a comprehensive alternative fuelling network in place to keep food on our shelves, parts in our factories and goods in our stores; I’m confident we have the expertise, manufacturing ability and R&D capability in the transport industry to make that happen.

Rail Network: “A zero-emission rail network can only be achieved through widespread electrification, we’ve stalled on this for too long – it’s now time to move ahead with development and delivery of a pipeline of projects, starting with the full electrification of the Midland Main Line, and other priority routes across the country. Once Government confirms what parts of the rail network will be electrified and which will be serviced by hydrogen and battery-powered trains, it will give suppliers the certainty they need to invest and hire skilled staff, keeping costs down.”

The industry and the Midlands: “We know that decarbonising our transport network is essential in achieving our target of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050, and that so far we’ve lagged behind other industries. In the past 30 years the energy industry has reduced its carbon emissions by 62 per cent, whereas the transport industry has only managed a 5 per cent reduction. There is much to do but today’s release of the strategy is an important and critical milestone as we look to meet the challenge ahead.”

 “The Midlands is home to the biggest cluster of rail and automotive businesses in the UK, this announcement is great news for the region, and will support the creation of highly skilled jobs in the transport sector. Our region was home to the first industrial revolution and can now be at the heart of a green revolution.”

Chief Executive Officer of Volta Trucks, Essa Al-Saleh, said: “The publication of the UK Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan is welcome because it gives British fleet operators and buyers a level of certainty that didn’t previously exist.

“That said, the ban on internal combustion engine trucks by 2040 is nearly 20 years away, and today’s climate emergency cannot wait. Trucks account for less than 2% of road vehicles but 22% of CO2 emissions from road transport, and the relative share of truck emissions is certain to increase as emissions from passenger cars are driven downwards by the surge in the sales of electric cars. 

“It’s therefore disappointing that the UK Government hasn’t been as ambitious as the French authorities, for example, who have banned diesel engine trucks from the streets of Paris and other large city centres by the end of 2023. This type of progressive legislation, twinned with incentives, is what’s needed to accelerate the migration to zero emission large commercial vehicles.

“The Volta Zero is the first purpose-built full electric large commercial vehicle designed specifically for logistics within city centres where air quality is at its worst. We will begin customer trials in London and Paris next year ahead of the start of full-scale production by the end of 2022. This will ensure we can meet our customer’s demands, and the needs of the wider population, to have full-electric zero emission commercial vehicles available in the market as soon as possible.”

Asher Bennett, Founder and CEO of Tevva, commented:“The government’s proposal to ban the sale of smaller diesel trucks from 2035 and larger ones from 2040 as part of its Transport Decarbonisation Plan is the right course of action given that heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) account for c. 18% of road transport emissions in the UK. 

“However, it is now critical for investors and government to back electric truck solutions which meet the unique needs of fleet operators in an economically viable way.  Unlike cars, which are used on average for 1.5 hours per day and buses that run on dedicated routes, freight trucks face different challenges when it comes to electrification, such as the requirement to work 8-12 hours per day across varied routes, environments and distances. Not every electric truck manufacturer on the market has considered this requirement, creating a potentially expensive problem for fleet operators further down the line.”

“Thanks to Tevva’s patented range-extension technology, Tevva’s mid to large-sized freight trucks can do all the work of a diesel more economically and efficiently than ever before.”

CBI’s chief UK policy director Michael Fell said: “Phase-out dates for polluting vehicles across road, rail and aerospace will send an important signal to markets and investors. These must be backed up with credible plans to accelerate the development of clean technologies like hydrogen and Sustainable Aviation Fuels, as well as a comprehensive plan for rolling out charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

“The plan rightly recognises the importance of greener commutes through a modal shift, with investment in active travel and public transport networks being positive steps for businesses looking to lower their carbon footprints.

“Decarbonising transport is a major part of transitioning our whole economy to net zero within 30 years. Businesses will hope this plan is followed swiftly by a Heat and Buildings Strategy, a Hydrogen Strategy and an overarching Net Zero plan – all promised to be delivered ahead of COP26 in November.”

Labour’s Shadow Minister for Green Transport Kerry McCarthy, said: “Instead of putting its foot on the accelerator, the Government is still stalling when it comes to the tough decisions needed to tackle transport emissions.

“Plans to decarbonise rail and aviation are long overdue – so why is the Government allowing rail fares to rise and why is it failing to prioritise a sectoral deal for aviation conditional on climate action? Why, despite its promises on EVs, has the government cut plug-in grants and what is it going to do to provide the nationwide network of public charging points that we need? At a time when we should be showing global leadership and pressing ahead with this agenda, it’s clear Ministers still have a long way to go.”

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive said: “The automotive sector welcomes the publication of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan and associated consultations, which are necessary to create a clear and supportive framework to accelerate the transition to net zero mobility. The industry is already delivering with an ever-expanding range of electrified vehicles which are being bought in ever greater numbers.

“However, achieving net zero cannot rely solely on the automotive sector. Massive investment, not least in infrastructure, is necessary and must be delivered at accelerated pace, for which we still await a plan and equally ambitious targets. Crucially, we must maintain a strong and competitive market that ensures the shift to electrified vehicles is affordable for all.”

Cars and vans: “The electric revolution must be accessible and affordable for all. The right regulatory framework can give drivers the confidence to switch, and manufacturers the clarity they need to invest. However, the ambitions are incredibly high and the timeline tight, so any regulation must be backed by a package of measures that accelerate market uptake through consumer incentives, as well as an irreversible commitment to the expansion of charging infrastructure and rapid energy decarbonisation, so we’re not putting brown energy into green cars and vans.”

HGVs: “The industry is developing many types of zero-emission technologies for heavy commercial vehicles, with electric, hydrogen and other alternative fuel options available. However, the technologies are still in their infancy – so if the UK wants to be a leader in uptake, government must provide the right incentives and infrastructure so hauliers don’t defer their decarbonising decision to the last minute. Plus, given these vehicles operate across borders, we need to ensure the solutions work both for the UK and our close international markets.”

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