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Home / News and Insights / Blogs / Planning Act 2008 / 908: What the Transport Decarbonisation Plan means for infrastructure

On 14 July 2021 the government published the long-awaited Transport Decarbonisation Plan. Although a press release announced ‘government publishes world’s first “greenprint”…’ early in the morning, the plan didn’t come out until about 3.30pm. It was interesting how many media outlets didn’t check whether it had actually been published and said that it had, even with ‘reactions’ from experts.

Anyway, the principal thrust of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan is based on people being able to continue to travel and technology will allow this to be compatible with achieving net zero, there will be no ‘demand suppression’. In the dichotomy of approaching the future between ‘technology will always come to the rescue’ versus ‘we’re doomed unless we change our behaviour’ (see eg books such as The Wizard and the Prophet) the government is clearly going with the former.

The main news for nationally significant transport project aficionados is that the plan commits to a review of the National Networks National Policy Statement (see page 102 of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan – it’s in big writing so they must really mean it). The accompanying text is a bit of a hostage to fortune – it is right to review the NPS because the current one was designated:

‘before the government’s legal commitment to net zero, the 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, the new Sixth Carbon Budget and most directly the new, more ambitious policies outlined in this document’.

If that’s so, why not review the Ports and Airports NPSs as well, for which the above is all also true? Apart from the last bit, the arguments would also apply to non-transport NPSs.

According to the Guardian the government may no longer be defending the judicial review brought by the Transport Action Network that the NPS should be reviewed (but TAN’s challenge to the road-building programme continues and was heard in the High Court last week).

Indeed, the £27 billion road building programme is mentioned on page 103, suggesting it will continue as planned. I suppose if the vehicles using the roads are decarbonised, all that is left is the carbon involved in construction.

The document sets out how various types of vehicle will be decarbonised in various places – here is a table by way of summary:

Sector Commitment or consultation? Date?Covers existing vehicles?
Cars Commitment 2035No
Motorbikes Will consult2035 No
HGVsAre consulting 2040No
Buses Are consultingNot givenNo
Coaches Will consult Not givenNo
TrainsCommitment 2040 Yes, but diesel only
Ships Will consult Not givenNo
AircraftWill consult 2040Yes, but domestic only

As you can see, the level of commitment varies dramatically and none of them deals with all existing vehicles, which will need to be tackled eventually.

In the area of aviation specifically the government also launched a consultation on ‘Jet Zero’ (geddit?), which can be found here. There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking there, but airport operations will be obliged to be zero emissions by 2040 (scope 1 and 2, ie not third party emissions). I was thrown a bit by the email for responding, which is – what is this to do with New Zealand? Oh, I see.

Electricity decarbonisation

On the same day, the government has issued a call for evidence in preparation for changes to Carbon Capture Readiness. This proposes four principle measures:

  • dropping the 300MW threshold for electricity generation to be Carbon Capture Ready, ie all electricity generation will have to be;
  • renaming Carbon Capture Ready (CCR) as Decarbonisation Ready (DR);
  • extending DR to other forms of emission reduction such as using hydrogen; and
  • moving DR from the planning regime to the environmental permitting regime

Not to be outdone, also on the same day the European Commission launched its European Green Deal under the slogan ‘fit for 55’, which is not an exercise regime for the middle-aged or a five-year delay in achieving net zero, but refers to a target of a 55% reduction in carbon by 2030. Details can be found here. The EU is to be the first ‘climate neutral continent’ by 2050.  I don’t want to pedantic but…

The proposals include a ban on new non-net zero cars from 2035, a tightening of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), 80% of flights to include sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) by 2035, 80% of shipping to use low-carbon fuels by 2050, increased costs for imports to the EU of high-carbon products such as steel, cement and fertiliser, and a ‘social climate fund’ for people who lose their jobs because of the transition. Odd that post-2030 targets form most of the ‘fit for 55 (by 2030)’ proposals, but presumably emissions are expected to reduce to the requisite amount by 2030 on their way to the targets.

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