DfT decarbonising transport consultation

28th March 2020

Bus stop, West Park, Harrogate
Bus stop, West Park, Harrogate

The government has published a consultation document on decarbonising transport, entitled 'Decarbonising transport: setting the challenge'. The DfT says the document sets out how it intends to develop a Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP). The TDP itself is to be published in autumn 2020 - just before the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November.

A BBC article by Roger Harrabin quotes a professor at Hertfordshire University, who says that the foreword by Grant Shapps signifies 'a radical change'.

Foreword by Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps

'Climate change is the most pressing environmental challenge of our time', are the opening words of Shapps' foreword. (It would be more accurate to say that it is the most pressing challenge of our time). The Minister notes that '...we have a duty to act quickly and decisively to reduce emissions.' Later, the document notes the need for 'rapid and unprecendented action across the UK economy and wider society...' (p10).

Shapps explains that the TDP will be developed in 2020, and this document marks the start of the process. There are to be events and workshops. The DfT wants input from individuals, businesses, local authorities, scientists, interest groups and others.

Strategic priorities

The foreword refers to strategic priorities, which are discussed in more detail later in the document. The first is the most encouraging:

Decarbonising transport graphic 1

We've heard this before, in the Cycling & Walking Investment Strategy. In that case, the words were meaningless because there was no action or funding to make it happen, and local authorities still treat active travel as unimportant.

Other positive points include:

Current emissions & policies

The first three chapters set out current emissions and policies - not including any result of the TDP being developed.


Cars are the most common means of transport, regardless of journey type or length. Current projections show the total distance driven increasing considerably by 2050, and emissions reducing somewhat due to more efficient vehicles - but not enough to meet carbon reduction targets.


Paragraph 2.49 of the document states: 'Airport expansion is a core part of boosting our global connectivity and levelling up across the UK. The Government takes seriously its commitments on the environment and the expansion of any airport must always be within the UK's environmental obligations.'

I would like to eat twelve cream puddings every day and lose weight, but I know those two things are incompatible.

Cycling and walking

Paragraph 2.59: 'Cycling and walking are the ultimate forms of zero GHG emission transport. Committed spending on active travel could reduce total car km in England by around 0.9% in 2020, compared to what it would otherwise be.' That is tiny.

The document says £2.4bn has been identified for cycling and walking schemes under CWIS, between 2016 and 2021. Compare that to £27bn found for new main roads in the 2020 Budget, and it is quite clear where the current priority lies.

A glimmer of hope is found in para 2.66, which says that there is to be a long-term programme and budget to dramatically increase investment in cycling and walking. It says there is £100bn for infrastructure spending (roads, rail, and other infrastructure), and some of it will be allocated to cycling and walking in the Spending Review in autumn 2020.

Current trajectory

Transport emissions projection

In Chapter 4, the DfT recognise that they are not on course to meet legally binding carbon reduction targets - as shown in the graph above.

Setting the Challenge

There are more encouraging words in this section of the document. '[T]o deliver the reduction in transport emissions needed for our interim carbon budgets and net zero, we will need to go further than the existing plans set out in this document. This is not optional; there is no plausible path to net zero without major transport emissions reductions...'

The TDP is to put forward a credible implementation plan, to put the UK's transport system on a pathway to GHG emissions reductions. There are to be fundamental changes to the way people and goods are moved, including more active travel and public transport use.

There are to be 'placed-based solutions' to enable lower carbon communities.

There's some emphasis on changes through behavioural science. I would say that is of marginal relevance. The only way to increase cycling is build safe, convenient bike routes as part of a complete network.

Paragraph 5.14 contains strategic priorities, and they include the modal shift to public and active transport mentioned above. Other priorities are decarbonising the transport of goods and place-based solutions.

Decarbonising transport graphic 2

There are two more strategic priorities. They include the phrases 'world-leading' and 'global leadership'. (There are an astonishing twenty six such references to Britain leading the world in the document as a whole. The boastful tone is hardly justified where active travel is concerned).

Decarbonising transport graphic 3

Next steps

There's to be an opportunity for public feedback via online surveys of transport users. Workshops (world-leading ones?) and regional engagement sessions will be held in three waves, each focused on one strategic priority.

People can register for updates, share their views, and express interest in participating in the workshops, by emailing TDP@dft.gov.uk.

An external advisory council is to be convened, called the Net Zero Transport Council.