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As the Department for Transport releases its long-awaited report, ICE analyses the key points that could affect how people travel around the UK.
As the Office for Budget Responsibility outlined last week, early action on net zero, focused in the right areas, will mean a lower cost for the public in the long term.
Slide from Dr Jannik Giesekam’s 2020 Unwin Lecture on zero carbon and infrastructure.
Perhaps the biggest headline on transport decarbonisation is one that was announced late last year – the phase-out of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030. This is expanded on in the TDP and its supporting documents, with a delivery plan outlining the necessary milestones, investments and policies needed to meet the target.
The TDP goes further by proposing to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) by 2035. HGVs account for 16% of total transport emissions, but make up just 5% of vehicle miles.
To back up these policies, the government is consulting on a proposed ‘zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate’.
This will require vehicle manufacturers to sell a gradually rising proportion of ZEVs and, if they miss the target, they will need to purchase credits from manufacturers that have exceeded the mandate. This creates competition between manufacturers, increases demand for credits and should decrease the cost of ZEVs.
The TDP also commits to invest £1.3 billion over the next four years to accelerate the rollout of electric vehicle (EV) chargepoints, with an EV infrastructure strategy to be published later this year.
In the domestic aviation sector, the government is consulting on a 2040 ‘Jet Zero’ target, as well as for all airport operations in England to be zero emission by 2040.
The Climate Change Committee has previously advised that there are no future scenarios in which the UK can meet its carbon reduction milestones while airport expansion presses ahead, so it appears the government is relying heavily on new fuels and technology to meet its ambition.
The government also published a Rail Environment Policy Statement, which sets the direction for achieving a fully zero emission rail network by 2050.
While the plans for rail are lighter in detail than road and aviation, this does include phasing out all diesel trains by 2040 and pressing ahead with electrification, with a pipeline of rail electrification schemes to be published soon.
In April, ICE hosted a Presidential Breakfast with Rachel Maclean MP, the minister with responsibility for transport decarbonisation. The discussion highlighted a real appetite for greening the transport system, particularly from local and sub-national leaders.
It's encouraging that the TDP emphasises the role local and sub-national leaders will have to play in transitioning transport to net zero.
This includes a raft of commitments, such as reforming the way local transport infrastructure is funded, improving strategic planning of local infrastructure projects, embedding transport decarbonisation principles into spatial planning – including re-planning urban areas to make them less car-dependent and create healthier environments – and providing guidance to local authorities on what transport decarbonisation interventions they can take.
With government setting the framework and providing capability support and funding, this will unleash local areas to plan and deliver net-zero transport systems that work for them and their communities.
ICE will soon publish an insight paper outlining the role of sub-national leadership in achieving net zero, so the government’s commitment to empower and support local areas is welcome.
While active travel and public transport are prioritised before any other modes in the TDP, with the government wanting them to become the “natural first choice”, details on them are fairly light and contain no new policies or funding. The second Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, due out later this year, presents an opportunity for the government to outline its ambition further.
Another area missing is how transport systems can continue to be funded in the face of declining revenues.
While there is no explicit mention of national road user charging – something ICE has explored previously – the TDP states that government will need to ensure revenue from motoring taxes keeps pace with the shift to EVs to ensure infrastructure and public services are funded in the future. Fuel duty and Vehicle Excise Duty raise in the region of £30 billion every year, so a fair and equitable replacement on the transition to net zero is most certainly needed.
The impact of Covid-19 on public transport revenue and funding is another consideration.
The TDP acknowledges that public transport demand is unlikely to ever return to pre-pandemic levels, but it's clear that we need to have an urgent debate about how we fund it going forward. ICE’s recent discussion paper has outlined the need to think differently about how we approach this issue, especially as public transport is so crucial to meeting net zero.
The TDP is undoubtedly significant. But it is one piece of the net-zero systems puzzle. We know that decarbonising transport has implications for electricity demand and motoring tax revenue, which in turn has implications on consumer behaviour around modal shift.
The changes required for the net-zero transition will span many disciplines, sectors and government departments. There are countless interdependencies and major uncertainties – social, economic, environmental, political and technological – which must be accounted for.
To manage all these systemic issues, we need a full cross-sector net-zero strategy so that there is clarity on who is doing what, why and when.