Hitting the ground running: The first 100 days
Hitting the ground running: The first 100 days

The government’s roadmap to transport decarbonisation: What can industry expect?

Words by:
October 26, 2020

Covid 19 has had a dramatic impact on how we have been able to travel in recent months. All forms of transport fell dramatically in the first lockdown and the ‘new normal’ is posing major challenges to the traditional model of public transport in particular.

However, the longer-term transport challenge for government remains decarbonisation. Significant questions remain unanswered, namely, how it will achieve full scale decarbonisation across every area of the transport network and by when.

The next few months are expected to see several set piece policy initiatives emerge from government, intended to answer these questions. We have looked at what industry can expect and the implications for engagement with government.

Transport Decarbonisation Strategy

When is it due?

Officials are hopeful this will be published by the end of this year but there is potential for it to slip to early 2021.

Issues and implications for transport

Billed as the Department for Transport’s roadmap for how to decarbonise the transport sector. It will look across all modes of transport and set out the government’s strategic priorities. Decarbonisation of rail and road, being the easiest to act upon, will be a major focus of the Strategy.

On Rail, much of the groundwork has been done by Network Rail’s recent Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy (TDNS). This details that much of the rail network will need to be electrified, with new low carbon rolling stock being vital for some lines. The Strategy concludes that over 11,000 standard track kilometres of electrification will be needed, supplemented by a significant role for zero carbon traction, including hydrogen and battery technology.

This area is seen as in the ‘easier’ category by DfT officials and it is likely that the DfT Strategy will be closely aligned with Network Rail’s recommendations. However, there is likely to be more work to do scoping out how to implement these changes under the new Emergency Recovery Measure Agreements and whatever follows them.

In the more challenging category is driving the transition to electric vehicles. In response to the Committee for Climate Change’s call for the government to bring forward a ban on petrol and diesel vehicles to 2032, the government said it recognised “the need to go further than the existing regulatory regime” and is considering more stringent measures in the Transport Decarbonisation Strategy.

Specifically, the government is understood to be considering a new ‘zero-emission mandate’ scheme which will see manufacturers forced to sell their models even if demand is lower than other fuel types. Briefings to the media have implied that this would reduce the need for fiscal incentives to encourage such purchases. If that is the case, it would indicate the government is minded to reach for the stick rather than the carrot. However, this risks alienating parts of the industry that they will need to take along with them in order to meet such ambitious timelines, especially if they accelerate the target date to 2030.

The other part of the picture for electric vehicles is how to fast-track the deployment of a national charging infrastructure ahead of consumer demand. Again, government will need industry onside to supply the necessary infrastructure ahead of its inevitable demand. However, charging operators will also need a clear steer from government to provide an environment in which to invest.

National Infrastructure Strategy


The Chancellor has said it will be published this autumn.

Issues and implications for transport

Major infrastructure projects can provide a significant boost for jobs and economic growth and this strategy will now therefore be viewed through the lens of recovery. It will also have a major focus on decarbonisation.

While the National Infrastructure Strategy will have a broader focus than just transport, it will be a good yardstick of how joined up the government’s approach is by how well it aligns with and facilitates what will be included in the DfT’s own Decarbonisation Strategy. Most likely it will simply echo what the various parts of government are doing but in order to make progress, more will be required. On rail decarbonisation for example, significant investment will be required. The big question is whether the National Infrastructure Strategy can be a vehicle to confirm this investment or not.

This question has only become sharper with the news that the Spending Review will now only cover one year. The caveat that multi-year settlements will be given to some ‘priority’ infrastructure projects will leave several sectors waiting to see if their programmes fall into that category.

Energy White Paper

When is it due?

Currently due to be published at the end of this month but further delay is likely.

Issues and implications for transport

The Energy White Paper may not appear too relevant to transport policy at first glance, but the scale of change required to electrify the rail network, provide national charging infrastructure for electric vehicles or introduce significant numbers of hydrogen trains or buses will require fundamental changes to our energy generation and distribution sectors.

The White Paper itself is likely to support a wide range of different technologies as opposed to prioritising one over another. This has implications for transport because, while the government may not want to close down its options, sectors that need to introduce major changes will need a steer that the government is actively backing them. The introduction of hydrogen trains on the scale envisaged by Network Rail for instance would require the introduction of a new hydrogen generation and distribution industry. This is only possible with clear government backing.

Again, the challenge is the extent to which the Treasury feels able to make significant commitments as this time of great economic uncertainty and how detailed the White Paper is in setting out next steps.

What this all means for the transport sector and what you should do about it

  • Publication of these strategies and white papers isn’t necessarily set in stone. They are visions and statements of intent, not detailed policy programmes. The opportunity to shape future policy remains plentiful and so what isn’t included in publication can still be pushed up the agenda elsewhere.
  • You will need to build a strong political and industry-wide support base as quickly as possible. This shouldn’t just include those in transport, but in the energy space too, for example, to show a unified front. Where possible, you want to avoid doing this at a time when you should be mobilising that base to act.
  • Your reputation should be at the forefront. The reception you receive to the points that you make will be formed largely by the experience people have had of you and what they see, hear and feel about your reputation.  For example, an electric vehicle charging operator who has a credible track record in helping electric vehicle users charge their vehicles will have a stronger starting point to work from when it comes to conversations on measures to support decarbonisation of the road network than an organisation that does not.
  • Implementation of the above documents will be long and complicated, covering many different issues. There will also be considerable cross over. Associated legislation and even additional sub consultations will likely still be working their way through Parliament well into next year.  Ensure your campaign has durability and be ready to be flexible, always.




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