Transport Decarbonisation – a ‘Call to Action’

The point of the detailed assessment in the Will Labour fail its transport decarbonisation test? report is to make data and context available; alert policymakers to complexities, competing priorities, and contradictions; and to emphasise always the importance of the decarbonisation imperative in setting strategic direction. But  assuming the report’s argument is persuasive, it is meant to lead on to some actions. What should Labour do next?

That question is discussed in the last section of the report from page 54. It says:

‘As acall to action’ – to put the analysis of this report into practice – it recommends conducting a two stage process: Stage 1 in the pre-election period and before government: developing a comprehensive transport decarbonisation analysis leading on to scenario development; and then Stage 2 in the post election period and when in government: the construction of more detailed policy scenarios and intervention options that would form the building blocks of mode by mode burden sharing towards a specified and quantified carbon reduction  pathway, and finally programmes of interventions. The template for a transport decarbonisation scenario is described (appendix 1) which seeks to optimise criteria of minimised cost, public acceptance, equity, the ‘polluter pays’ principle, and the ability to accelerate  carbon reduction. Such a decarbonisation scenario is likely to be broadly positive against key criteria.’

And then it refers to another key characteristic of the report’s approach.

‘The report very deliberately does not propose particular solutions or interventions to the multitude of problems it has assessed; not as a tactical manoeuvre in order to evade the public controversy and attacks from political opponents and their media allies that characterise this issue, but because it follows from essential methodology. It would be premature (within stage 1) to be identifying such interventions, or indeed back to front. The stage 1 thinking should instead be fed into the ‘access talks’ with civil servants, to allow them to begin to think through what major policy options and scenarios in government might be, and how those interact with other departmental areas, other emissions sectors, and the 5 Labour ‘missions’.

So apparently more about ‘process’ than ‘programmes of proposals’. Typically a campaign might say to an organisation or government: ‘We suggest you consider doing ABC as solutions to problems XYZ’. The emphasis is on the solutions, and you might think that’s the way it should be. Instead  the report is saying ‘make sure you’ve understood the problems first (stage 1) before you start drawing up lists of solutions (stage 2). ‘Problems’ identified should always then be linked to their ‘solution’ but you won’t be able to generate the right solutions until you’ve first analysed the problems sufficiently and firmly established the objectives – in our case, that decarbonisation imperative – that any subsequent list of solutions must serve.

This ‘call to action’ is a mixture of Do’s and Don’ts

The Do’s include ‘undertake a decarbonisation analysis before the election, or request the civil service (via the access talks) to prepare policy options which will be sufficient to achieve accelerated decarbonisation’; on entering government ‘require an assessment of the principal policy frameworks for roads and aviation to establish whether they are Net Zero compatible and ‘fit for purpose’ and ‘be ready to announce in the First 100 Days that the DfT’s policies and decisions always need to advance that objective’

The Don’ts would include ‘don’t think that sufficient decarbonisation can be achieved via sector changes (from private to public) in the control of rail and bus services, which will also take up a great deal of policy resource to achieve’ or ‘think that the ‘list of schemes’ approach to transport infrastructure  should be at the centre of transport decision-making’. Why? – because it’s unlikely that they’re going to result in the necessary quantified amount of decarbonisation. As an example of that fallacy, look at the ‘Network North‘ list of schemes hastily cobbled together on the eve of the cancellation of the Northern leg of HS2, and rightly derided for, amongst many things, partly reallocating funding previously assigned to sustainable rail infrastructure to ‘road schemes up-and-down the country’.