The pathway to decarbonisation

Transport Knowledge Hub logo Published on: 22nd May 2020 by David Hughes.

When it comes to the defining challenges of the 21st Century the Covid-19 global pandemic is bound to be at the top of the list. The steps we’re taking to deal with it are having a considerable impact on every aspect of our daily lives, and the effects will continue to be felt for months and likely years to come.

Of particular interest is the effect on how often and the way we travel. The move to more remote working has resulted in significantly lower levels of pollution because there are fewer vehicles on the roads. This is indeed welcome news, but the world has already been working on the problem of carbon emissions from transport for some time, and the Covid-19 effect isn’t a long-term solution.

So why is it transport’s problem to solve? Well, transport is now the largest contributor to UK domestic greenhouse gas emissions, contributing 28% in 2018. Without immediate action, that figure is only going to go up, and that’s why Transport for the North is working on a “Decarbonisation Pathway to 2050”. This will outline a trajectory for the region’s transport network to deliver an absolute zero carbon network before 2050, and also champion those areas that are leading the way and proactively setting earlier targets and implementing new initiatives.

TfN’s work has begun with the vital task of compiling evidence. We’ve gathered information from our region’s Local Transport and Combined Authorities to ensure we have a comprehensive understanding of existing policies, targets, infrastructure and programmes. Combined with a wealth of data from our industry partners and work with networks such as DecarboN8, this ensures we have a more complete picture of where we are now.

We know in general terms where we’re headed – a zero carbon transport network by 2050 – so the next question is what our first steps of the journey look like. To answer that we’re working on future transport demand scenarios. These identify the plausible alternative realities we could find ourselves in and how they would influence our travel needs. Mapping carbon emissions intensities for each scenario is helping us to develop an adaptive strategy that is resilient to different potential futures.

From this evidence and analysis, we can begin to set out how the zero carbon target can be achieved through specific actions in our region. This will be used to influence the Government’s national transport decarbonisation plan, which is expected to be published later this year. The launch document, published in March, sets out the challenges and approach to this, and we’ll be working with our Members to ensure our region is recognised and involved for the decarbonisation work we’re already doing, and the plans we have for the future.

This work reinforces the importance of continuing to speak with one voice about the needs of the North, and working collaboratively with the other strategic transport bodies and our delivery and industry partners, to ensure we keep moving in the direction we all want to go in.

It’s also an essential part of our developing Northern Transport Charter, which encompasses our ambitions, actions and changes that are essential to realising devolved funding and decision-making and bringing our Strategic Transport Plan to life.

In any crisis there is opportunity, and Covid-19 has shown us that we can explore new ways of working and getting around. It would be a real shame if we missed this opportunity to create new and more sustainable behaviours of travel in the future.

About the Author

This post was written by David Hughes. David is the Strategy and Programme Director at Transport for the North.