Ahead of the COP26 climate conference, the UK government has detailed its plans for drastically reducing carbon emissions over the coming decades. It's a 368-page report, no less, the 'Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener' manifesto; fear not, we won't take you through every last bullet point, but there are some key takeaways from the transport section.
On top of the £1.9bn committed in last year's Spending Review, another £620m has been pledged for the UK's pace-gathering transition to electric vehicles. The focus for that funding is going to be on plug-in vehicle grants as that 2035 ban looms, as well as on-street residential charging. The latter is obviously worth spending money on; it's all very well talking about using the off-peak tariff to charge your EV at home, but there are plenty of people who don't have a driveway - and, quite rightly, take umbrage at being charged £38.99 a month by companies like char.gy before even plugging a car in. That investment can't come soon enough.
On top of the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales, and the 2035 hard stop to all cars that emit emissions, the government has now stated that it wants to end the sale, by 2040, of all new, non-zero emission road vehicles. It's subject to consultation for now, but that would be buses, bikes, lorries, vans - the lot. Which seems absurdly ambitious given where the technology is for most large commercal vehicles right now. But the government will be betting on the industry to continue improving at an ever greater pace after 2030.
On the car side of things, the government will introduce a mandate for all manufacturers' sales from 2024. They'll be required to sell a certain amount of zero emissions vehicles from that point, the aim being "to provide certainty to consumers, energy providers, the chargepoint industry, vehicle manufacturers and supply chains during this transition [to non-ICE sales]". And before somebody mentions tax, they're keeping tabs on that. Road pricing isn't confirmed, not by a long stretch, only an admission that "we need to ensure that the taxation of motoring keeps pace with the change to electric vehicles." So expect those books to be frantically balanced in the next few years.
All that said, the document is keen to avoid a car-led recovery; the net zero plan for 2050 won't work simply with everyone in your family buying a Leaf. Naturally this kicks off with total non-starters like the idea of car sharing (an unmitigated failure when tried elsewhere) and goes onto detail investment in other avenues capsized by the pandemic - like public transport. Ditching diesel trains by 2040 is a good start (though fraught with infrastructure problems), while £3bn is earmarked for the faltering bus network and another couple of billion on paths and cycleways. The aim of the latter is for half of all urban journeys to be cycled or walked by 2030, which is something to look forward to now we've all moved out of the cities.
The overall aim, of course, is laudable enough - "our streets will be cleaner and people healthier from breathing cleaner air, walking and cycling more", including one zero-emission transport city as well - though you only need look at the disturbance caused by improving London's bike lanes to know that it's not an easy job. Or always a popular one.
Speaking of which, the government is keen for this green revolution to create gainful employment. It's not clear exactly where the number has been conjured from, but the Net Zero Strategy is pledging support for "up to 74,000 jobs in 2040." Which is presumably more than a few additional bus drivers, and someone to serve coffee on HS2. With any luck the government will acknowledge that shutting down car factories isn't going to do its best-laid plans any favours in this regard - unless we're all supposed to buy German-built Teslas from now on.
Clearly though many things need to change, and some of those things are already in progress - more than one in five new cars sold in (an admittedly dire) September were plug-in or electric. But with the government now voraciously chasing net zero - you can expect plenty more change, both voluntary and enforced, over the coming years. Improved public transport, quieter, cleaner cities and healthier people sounds great, although don't expect any of it to arrive without significant changes to lifestyles. Good thing people like change so much...
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