Prof Greg Marsden view of a ‘Dangerously Inadequate’ transport decarbonisation plan

Anthony Rae 17th May 2024: Following the extremely significant Friends of the Earth successful legal challenge to the government’s overall October 2021 Net Zero Strategy – which was taken to court in 2022 and found wanting, so had to be revised and then that new version, now called the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (March 2023) was also judicially reviewed for the same reason, and on 3rd May 2024 was found to be unlawful as well! – where does that leave the transport elements of the UK’s overall decarbonisation plan?

That’s the subject of an article on TransportXtra by Prof Greg Marsden of Leeds University Institute of Transport Studies entitled ‘Dangerously Inadequate’ decarbonisation plan. You should read it all but here are his main conclusions.

‘If we want to stay within the sixth carbon budget pathway for transport set out by the Climate Change Committee then we need more ambitious electrification uptake than we currently have. This means the ZEV mandate AND significant reductions in vehicle miles. [But] when the cross-government Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP) came out, most of this ambition had gone.’ So you have to do both: EVs and constraint on travel demand. This conclusion was based on Prof Marsden’s detailed analysis of data he had finally prised out from the DfT in a Freedom of Information tussle.

‘Even if all of the transport measures were delivered in full, there would still have been a gap of 224MtC (million tonnes carbon) over what the Climate Change Committee recommended. … This is not a ‘near miss’ but a chasm’. What did the DfT think of his analysis? ‘The Government’s response was that it didn’t matter if transport did less, because those savings would be picked up by action elsewhere in the economy. Except that this court judgment shows that across the document there were unrealistic assumptions about delivery that simply don’t add up. So, transport’s lack of ambition is not compensated for elsewhere.’

The implications for the DfT’s 2021 Transport Decarbonisation Plan are very significant. ‘This new court ruling shows that, as yet, there is no robust cross-government strategy to tackle emissions at a whole economy scale. I would argue that, with transport the largest sector of emissions, that statement will continue to be true unless the ambition for transport is higher. This would likely mean not planning for the kind of traffic growth futures we currently are, and therefore, having a different view of the strategic need for infrastructure compared to other policies.’ His finger is pointing towards the Roads Programme with, over the period 2020-2025, £14bn of new roads schemes.

Finally he casts a glance forward for what this will mean for whichever party forms the next government. ‘The challenge to the next Government will be that with every passing month and year of insufficient action, the task gets even harder.’ It’s on that subject that the Environmental Transport Organisations (ETOs) grouping will be publishing its analysis very shortly.