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The Major Environmental Initiative for Transport by UK Government

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

Ben Dolbear takes an early look at the under-reported publication of the new UK initiative that sets to see major changes to our transport network. | Innovation and Sustainability

Photo by Yoss Cinematic

In a landmark report on carbon emissions, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said that our first port of call for travelling in the near future will be a 'cost-effective and coherent public transport network', rather than our cars.

The 80-page document that has left climate advocates astounded, titled 'Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge', sets out ambitious plans for achieving a net-zero economy in the UK. One such measure being proposed is that all personal vehicles will be carbon neutral, with technological advancements, 'including new modes of transport and mobility innovation', leading to changes in the way such vehicles are used.

Too Little, Too Late?

Despite the move in June 2019 by the UK Government to become the first major global economy to be net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, advocates have highlighted the urgency of the climate crisis which will not wait until 2050 to have a drastic impact on the way we live our lives. Some have even warned that the Conservative government could exploit the use of international carbon credits to shift the burden of emissions abroad.

The biggest headline of the report comes in its Foreword, in which the minister writes that:

'Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network'.

Cycling campaigner Roger Geffen reacted to the release of the report, telling the BBC that, 'Grant Shapps [is] the first government minister in the UK to talk about traffic reduction since John Prescott tried (and failed) to achieve this aim in the late 1990s. There are some holes in the document, but it suggests that the government really does seem to be taking climate change seriously'.

But campaigners are worried about the lack of clear action on aviation pollution, which the industry claims can be solved through technology, something doubted by environmentalists.

A New Role for Rail

Much of the document, released on 27th March, 2020, focuses on passenger rail to alleviate the commuter impact on the fastening pace of climate change. It emphasises that travelling by train is, 'a relatively low-carbon form of transport, and is one of the most efficient ways of moving high volumes of people into city centres', pointing out that last year passenger figures rose to a record of 1.759 billion journeys. It is hoped that further public investment in the sector will enhance the accessibility of such a mode of travel.

The Department of Transport admits that there is, 'considerable uncertainty' over the future of transport emissions, but hopes that a combination of changing consumer behaviour, technological advancements, and an injection of public funds will set the UK on the right trajectory to achieving net-zero in the coming decades.


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