May 2024: Pre-election countdown on transport decarbonisation

Anthony Rae 17th May 2024: The really big question for transport and climate campaigners, as we head towards a probable October or November election (although it’s just possible it might be earlier) is: what are the two competing parties of government – Conservative and Labour – proposing to do in the next Parliament to reduce transport’s problematic carbon emissions, seeing that it stretches across the critical second half of the 2020s and up to the 2030 milestone set by the UK’s NDC commitment?

We sort of know what is the Conservative proposition, because they’ve been in power and had responsibility for transport policy all the time since 2010 (and must therefore take responsibility for the decarbonisation that didn’t occur then). Recently they’ve made a clear change of direction towards only a ‘pragmatic’ approach to Net Zero which however disregards an increasing number of recommendations made by their own independent advisers the Climate Change Committee, and which manifested itself by delaying the phase-out of petrol/diesel fuelled vehicles until 2035 (without bothering to even ask CCC what they assessed the impact of this might be), and by cancelling the northern leg of HS2 between Birmingham Manchester and redistributing that funding piecemeal up-and-down the country and quite a lot to road schemes. Finally they decided to deploy the hackneyed ‘war on motorists’ as an electoral wedge issue, seeking to curry favour with a ‘Plan for Drivers’.

But, what about Labour? Where do they stand on transport decarbonisation? There are two immediate answers. The first is We don’t know because they haven’t told us, and the second is that quite worryingly Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has pronounced his commitment to ‘modern supply-side theory’ which might encompass an unthinking expansion of physical infrastructure, including roads, on the claimed basis that this is essential for economic growth. Which it’s not.

To find out more about all this, and whether Labour will indeed pass, or fail, its ‘transport decarbonisation test’ as it heads towards government – because at the moment they are the clear front runners, with a 17% lead as of 16th May (says YouGov) – then you’ll need to read the short Issues Briefing and longer Analysis Report Will Labour fail its transport decarbonisation test? that’s now been published. Whilst it’s an independent critique of this issue, it’s not intended to be adversarial but rather constructive on what is a most important issue.

Over the next months we’ll following and chronicling the evolving positions of both parties as the election approaches.