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Lynsey Jones: Net zero opportunities new Transport Secretary must grasp

Lynsey Jones (Senior Climate Programme Manager at CEN)

As with all new ministers, the new Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan will have a lot on her plate. Many jobs will need her immediate attention - more rail strikes, airlines cancelling flights, and the cost of living impacting our travel choices. But transport is also the UK’s largest source of pollution, and we need to decarbonise the sector to meet our climate goals. Here are three areas the new Transport Secretary should focus on to achieve this in a pro-growth, pro-market, pro-choice way.

The first is electric vehicles (EVs). The UK market for EVs has expanded at a rate of knots. Demand has grown so much that it can take more than a year between buying a new EV and it being delivered. We need to scale up British supply.

The previous Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, played a key role in bringing a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate to these shores. It is a market-led mechanism whereby manufacturers have to sell an increasing proportion of electric cars in exchange for credits, which they can trade if they exceed this proportion to companies that don’t manage it, driving investment. A similar scheme already exists in the EU after the policy showed remarkable success in the US.

This is where the opportunity lies for the new Secretary of State. To bring EV manufacturing to the UK and make the most of our Brexit freedoms, we need a more ambitious ZEV mandate than our European neighbours. We need manufacturers to prioritise the UK market with low taxes and high incentives for sales. If we settle for a ‘business as usual’ mandate, then automotive industry investment will inevitably flow to the EU market.

Secondly, road tax reform should be high on the agenda. With rapid EV uptake comes a challenge for the Treasury - what to do about road tax? The answer is pricing the use of the roads more accurately. This won’t be a simple task, which is why it needs attention now. All the options will need thorough research, and the communication to drivers of any reform will need careful planning.

But inaction is not an option. Without reform, the Treasury will lose £35 billion in road tax and fuel duty. This money currently funds road upkeep but also goes toward hospitals and other vital public services. Done right, a switch to road pricing could benefit all drivers by only charging you for your use of the roads, cutting endless traffic.

The third priority should aim to tackle one of our largest sources of pollution, aviation, in a pro-growth way. The recently released Jet Zero Strategy set out how to get to net zero aviation emissions by 2050 and focused significantly on sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs). These can cut emissions by 80% and can be used by our current stock of planes.

Zero emission flight is in its infancy, and we cannot make people stop flying without damaging our aviation industry or limiting freedom. So if we are to curb these emissions, we need to rapidly ramp up SAF production and use.

Transport is not an easy brief, particularly when it comes to decarbonisation. It will need a clear vision and dog-headed determination. But it will bring dividends for British business. The path has already been set. Now we need to go full throttle on net zero transport.


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