Shifting policy towards a zero emission transport sector

Innovation News Network‘s International Editor, Clifford Holt, spoke to Green Alliance’s Head of Climate Policy, Caterina Brandmayr, about what is needed from the policy sphere to foster a zero emission transport sector.

Green Alliance is an independent think tank and charity focused on ambitious leadership for the environment. Since 1979, it has been working with the most influential leaders in business, NGOs, and politics to accelerate political action and create transformative policy for a green and prosperous UK.

A key part of this relates to the decarbonisation of the transport sector, the UK’s most polluting sector. Here, Green Alliance has been calling for an ambitious Decarbonisation Plan that puts the sector on track to meet net zero emissions and building on previous work to bring forward the phase out date for polluting vehicles.

Innovation News Network‘s International Editor, Clifford Holt, spoke to Green Alliance’s Head of Climate Policy, Caterina Brandmayr, about what is needed from the policy sphere to foster the greater roll-out of electric vehicles, amongst other areas.

How would you describe the policy landscape in the UK with regards to achieving a low carbon future?

The UK government has taken some positive steps with regards to action on climate change. The ten point plan that the Prime Minister set out in the autumn of last year was politically very significant because it clearly made the link between climate action and economic recovery and job creation post COVID-19.

Other important policy announcements include the earlier phase out date for the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles, the decision to end the public funding of fossil fuel energy projects abroad, the new, ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) target for 2030, announced in December 2020, as well as the recently-announced sixth carbon budget target to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035. All of these steps demonstrate clear ambition from government to lead on climate-related issues.

However, there are still some significant gaps, in terms of policy and funding, which need to be addressed in order to put the country on track for net zero and to meet legally binding decarbonisation targets. The Green Alliance’s Net zero policy tracker, published in April 2021, shows that funding is still only about half of what is needed per year to deliver on climate and nature, and we are still awaiting important sector decarbonisation strategies – including for the transport sector and for heat and buildings – as well as a new comprehensive strategy for how to achieve net zero. As a result of current shortfalls in policy and funding, UK emissions will be nearly 40% higher in 2030 than they need to be to meet our NDC target.

Post COVID-19, the EU is putting recovery plans in place and really placing an emphasis on a green and sustainable future. How would you like to see the UK follow suit?

There are three areas where the UK government needs to take action to promote a recovery towards a net zero, nature rich economy. One is the need to direct funding towards scaling up the low carbon infrastructure industries of the future. Such funding will be vital for low carbon transport, buildings, the circular economy, and nature restoration, where public funding is needed to leverage private sector investment.

Second, the government must establish the right policy framework to provide the long-term visibility and certainty needed for the private sector to invest in new solutions. Sectoral strategies should be setting out the range of levers that government plans to use to decarbonise all parts of the economy.

Finally, the UK’s recovery from COVID-19 needs to be a green recovery across the board. When thinking about developing the economy of the future, it cannot be a cherry-picking exercise; every single sector will have to be realigned. As such, government action needs to be coherent across all of its decisions to ensure that they are compatible with zero emissions targets. This means that not only does every funding decision need to be aligned with net zero, but it has to be recognised that all the different departments have a role to play.

How important a role will electric vehicles play in this future vision? How is the UK faring when it comes to the roll out and take up of, and (policy) support for, EVs? How would you like to see this evolving?

Currently, transport is the sector that produces the most emissions. With the level of emissions from surface transport essentially flat since 1990, the transport sector really cannot afford any more delays in terms of decarbonisation. Cars and vans account for the largest portion of surface transport emissions and, therefore, making sure that every single vehicle on the road is compatible with net zero is essential.

Electric vehicles, however are not the only solution; they must be part of a wider policy package which promotes greater walking, cycling, and public transport use, too, because that not only delivers rapid emissions savings but also maximises all the other benefits that come from having fewer cars on the road, such as lower congestion, improved air quality, and health benefits from more physical activity. Therefore, while it is important that all the vehicles on the road are zero emission vehicles, it is just as important to promote a new model of mobility.

Regarding electric vehicles specifically, recent years – and particularly last year – have seen significant growth in the number of new electric cars being sold. But we are starting from a very low baseline and, if we really want to maximise emission savings from EVs as well as cost savings to consumers and wider economic benefits, we need to significantly accelerate the transition to electric vehicles over the 2020s, and specifically for battery electric vehicles.

In terms of policy, the 2030 phase out date for new sales of petrol and diesel vehicles demonstrated that the UK is keen to lead the EV transition. This, combined with the additional incentives for electric vehicle purchases and funding for delivering the charging infrastructure, will play a significant role in promoting the market for electric vehicles. However, regulation on the side of manufacturers will also be essential to ensure adequate supply of battery electric vehicles on the market.

At the moment, there are fewer electric models for vehicles compared to petrol and diesel cars. Setting regulation that requires manufacturers to sell an increasing share of battery electric vehicles will promote greater investment in the supply chain, helping bring more models to market and reducing the cost of the vehicles. In this context, one of the policies we would like to see the government put into place ahead of the Glasgow climate summit is a Zero Emission Vehicles mandate. This is a regulation that essentially establishes a series of increasing targets that manufacturers have to meet in terms of the share of vehicles sold on the UK market that are zero emission. Targets increase over time, reaching 100% at the final phase out date.

Finally, while the 2030 phase out date will end the sale of the most polluting vehicles, it is only after 2035 that all non-zero emission vehicle sales will be banned. Government is planning to consult on the kinds of vehicles that can be sold between 2030 and 2035. Our view is that, because hybrids – including plug in hybrids – only lead to marginal emission savings compared to conventional petrol and diesel cars, sales of all hybrid vehicles should be minimised after 2030, focusing instead on promoting the uptake of battery electric vehicles.

How important is it for the UK to have an EV manufacturing base – as well as the infrastructure to manufacture and develop components such as batteries? What needs to be done to ensure success here?

It is incredibly important for the UK to invest in the industries of the future. With the market for battery electric vehicles set to increase rapidly in the coming decades, the UK should futureproof its automotive sector by realigning production towards manufacturing of batteries and battery electric vehicles.

To achieve this, the UK needs to capitalise on the recent announcement of the earlier phase-out date of new petrol and diesel vehicles to drive a concerted effort towards electric vehicle and battery manufacturing, attracting investment towards new supply chain and securing jobs across the country. Securing these investments in the early 2020s will also help build long term resilience, as the rules of origin requirements for trading with the EU become more stringent later in the decade.

Caterina Brandmayr
Head of Climate Policy
Green Alliance
Tweet @GreenAllianceUK

Please note, this article will also appear in the sixth edition of our quarterly publication.

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