Transport decarbonisation plan to phase out polluting HGVs, while pinning hope on new technology to make aviation green

The government has published its transport decarbonisation plan, just months before hosting the COP26 summit, setting out a blueprint for cutting emissions from sea, air, road and rail travel.

The plan, meant to be pathway for the whole transport sector to reach net zero by 2050, includes phasing out the sale of new diesel and petrol heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) by 2040. This proposal, subject to consultation, would have implications for the construction sector, which relies on HGVs to get materials and products to sites.

The date to phase out polluting cars and vans is 2035 .

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The consultation proposes a 2035 phase out date for vehicles weighing from 3.5 to 26 tonnes and 2040 for vehicles weighing more than 26 tonnes – or earlier if a faster transition seems feasible.

The transport decarbonisation plan has also set out how the government will improve public transport and increase support for active travel – creating a net zero rail network by 2050, ensuring net zero domestic aviation emissions by 2040 and leading the transition to green shipping.

The wider plan comes as the government publishes a number of consultations on how to achieve its net zero targets, including a green paper setting out the regulatory framework for vehicle manufacturers to improve the fuel efficiency of new cars, vans and HGVs.

One idea in the consultation is the possible introduction of a new phased industry mandate for zero emission vehicles.

The government has also published a 2035 delivery plan, which brings together all of the measures for decarbonising cars and vans, from across government, into a single document.

It outlines the key timelines, milestones and how progress towards the commitment to deliver mass ownership of zero emission cars and vans will be monitored.

The government has also launched a consultation commiting the UK aviation sector to reach net zero emissions by 2050 while also seeking to ensure everyone can continue to fly for holidays, visits to family and business without contributing to climate change.

The government appears to be pinning its hopes on technological advances to make this possible. 

Speaking to the BBC the transport secretary Grant Schapps said: ”We already have electric aircraft, going up in the air, and in fact the UK has become the first country in the world to have a hydrogen aircraft flying as well.

“In addition to those advanced technologies we also have things like sustainable aviation fuel.”

Environmental campaigners have warned the government is putting too much faith in technology that does not exist yet, and look at how to restrict air travel.

The consultation proposes an earlier target for UK domestic flights to reach net zero by 2040, as well as for all airport operations in England to be zero emission by 2040.

It is unclear at this stage how the decarbonisation plan could affect expansion plans at major airports such as Heathrow, Stansted and Birmingham, but if the government expects air travel to grow then more construction work in the aviation sector would be inevitable.

The government has also announced that it has brought forward the target date for the whole central government fleet of 40,000 cars and vans to be fully zero emission by 2027. This is three years earlier than previously planned.

The government’s response to the electric vehicle smart charging consultation has also been published and has committed to legislation later this year to ensure that all new private EV charge points meet smart charging standards, which can save consumers money on their energy bills

The DfT has also said it will be publishing its rail environment policy statement, which will set the direction for the rail industry on environment issues such as traction decarbonisation, air quality, decarbonising the rail estate, biodiversity and waste.