We know the Conservative government has failed the transport decarbonisation test. But what about a next Labour government?

Anthony Rae 19th May 2024: Despite the apparent ‘political’ nature of this article’s title, the issue here is not  about preferred choices between parties. In any case the ETOs grouping has no political affiliation. No, the politics of the UK as we approach a general election in 2024 are a given – as of the moment Labour has a 27% lead in the polls – and it’s from there that we start. If this situation prevails it’s much more likely that Labour will form the next government and therefore we should be looking into the future to see what the party led by Sir Keir Starmer might actually do for our area of concern: the decarbonisation of the UK’s largest emissions sector. In the entire first half of the 60 year Net Zero period (established by the Climate Change Act) between 1990-2050  transport achieved no decarbonisation at all, and is responsible for 70% of what’s called the’ policy gap’, a measurement of where there are only ambitions to decarbonise rather than actual policies, or indeed no policies at all.

Which gives rise to the judgement made in the title about the existing Conservative government. It’s simply the case that, having been in power during almost the entire period since the Climate Change Act was passed (by Labour, in 2008) it’s the Conservatives who have to be judged by their decarbonisation track record, and the numbers don’t lie. Moreover as they approach the coming electoral contest, Conservative politicians have been quick to deploy that hackneyed slogan – the ‘war on motorists’ – despite the fact that until 2021 drivers have been doing reasonably well in terms of cost of travel, compared to bus passengers. (For some reason the counterpart ‘war on bus passengers’ isn’t talked about that much). With a few careless touches in 2023 an accelerated transition to EVs was (sort of) delayed, and the construction of a high-speed rail spine to the northern regions of the country cancelled..

In this situation it’s only prudent to ask the question: What will the next party of government do instead. A special reason to ask is that so far Labour has failed to disclose what are its policy intentions for the two largest contributors to transport carbon emissions: road (66% of the total) and aviation (23%). Is it that they do know what they intend to do but have decided not to disclose it. Or that they don’t know what to do and want to disguise that. This is rather disappointing, hence asking the question Will Labour fail its transport decarbonisation test? The data and the analysis is set out in the new Analysis Report, and summarised in the Issues Briefing. It’s possible (though not necessarily likely) that over the coming months there might be a public debate on the matter.

There’s no reason why a next government, if it happens to be Labour, will set a transport policy for emissions splurging roads and aviation that is much different from the present one. It would be naive to assume otherwise. But although the report and briefing are an independent critique of the transport policy for roads and aviation that the Labour will inherit – and possibly continue with? – it’s not adversarial and is intended to be constructive.