Transport Decarbonisation

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Monday 19th July 2021

(2 years, 12 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD) [V]
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My Lords, there is no doubting the need for this transport decarbonisation plan and for that reason it is welcome. Transport is now the biggest single source of CO2 emissions in the UK. Other sectors have managed significant reductions over recent decades, but improvements on transport have been marginal. That is the worrying thing about this plan, because it relies far too heavily on technological solutions. I looked in vain for reference to some of the more difficult choices that are needed.

The Statement reminds us that we are running out of time to tackle climate change and refers to the need to

“take decisive and radical action now”.

Then it goes on to promise that we can all carry on doing the same things: we can still fly to go on holiday, for instance, and technology will come to the rescue by 2050. The events of the last few weeks should surely have taught us that this is a climate emergency. As Canada burns and hundreds drown in Germany and Belgium, surely we must wake up to the need for rapid change.

The Statement has an almost fairytale quality to it, with far too many vapid “world-first” and world-beating references, which undermine the genuinely good aspects of this document. When it comes to transport decarbonisation, we are not in the world’s top tier. Noble Lords need not believe me on all this; the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has complained of too many long-term targets and a lack of short-term milestones, which are essential to make them meaningful.

The Rail Delivery Group makes the point that, if the Government want people to make greener travel choices, they must make use of the levers they have at their disposal to motivate public action. Rail, for instance, carries 10% of passenger miles but only 1.4% of transport emissions, so it is a climate-change winner; but only 38% of the network is electrified. Amazingly, the Government are currently consulting on cutting domestic air passenger duty. The RDG estimates that just a 50% cut in APD would lead to almost a quarter of a million fewer long-distance train journeys, with people shifting to flying as the cheaper option, leading to an additional 27,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.

The Government should use tax levers to make flying less attractive, not more. Funding for railways needs to concentrate on cheaper tickets, simpler fare structures and on making it easier to walk up and go. France has legislated to prevent short-distance flights for journeys under two and a half hours by rail, and the UK should follow this lead. The Government’s first priority must be to use taxation and their own policies to get us back on the buses and trains, which are by far the most carbon-efficient means of transport. That means subsidies, ending the ridiculous 10-year freeze on fuel duty and a change in taxation.

The Government need to look beyond the transport industry to taxation on sources of power. The rail industry is being penalised for moving from diesel to electric and now pays 40% of its electricity costs in taxes, whereas 10 years ago it was only 12%. Meanwhile, air passengers pay a much smaller proportion of their fares as climate-related costs. The Government still have a £27 billion road-building programme, which simply must be reviewed if their plan is to be credible. With their current targets, there will still be many petrol and diesel cars on our roads into 2050 and beyond. The pandemic has encouraged us all back to our cars and we need the Government to be bold to reverse that.

Technology has its place, and there may well be occasional bonuses to be derived from unexpected advances, but it cannot be the sole answer. The Government cannot shirk from grappling with the difficult behaviour change in choices. They can dream up all the targets they like, but they are meaningless unless the Government develop a sense of urgency, stop promising us lots of goodies and start actually doing something.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for their input into this crucial moment in transport decarbonisation. It is the first time that any Government have taken a holistic and cross-modal approach to transport decarbonisation. It is the first plan of its type in the world. We have set out what we need to do and how we will end transport’s contribution to climate change in the next three decades.

As the Secretary of State for Transport said in the other place, this is not about stopping people doing things, banning things and all those things that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, is so keen on. It is about doing things differently. The plan is very much about taking the abstract—getting carbon out of our economy—and putting it into reality with actions, commitments and timings. Of course, there are many co-benefits to decarbonisation—we can have healthier and greener streets—and those too are very important.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, seemed to imply that consultation was somehow a bad idea. He complains that when the Government consult on this they have not made a decision. If I stood here and said that the Government had made a decision on something without consultation, I can imagine the response from your Lordships’ House, and it would not be good. Consultation is key for so many of these elements, and when we published the plan it was really heartwarming to see it widely welcomed by stakeholders from all across transport. That is because the strategic themes set out therein are so important.

As noted by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the first strategic theme is to accelerate

“modal shift to public and active transport”.


That is precisely what he said we were not doing, but we are—it is our number one strategic theme. The second is decarbonising road transport. We know that in transport itself, roads and road vehicles are the source of the greatest amount of emissions. The next theme of decarbonising how we get our goods—whether rail freight or road freight—will be really key in the future, as is establishing the UK

“as a hub for green transport technology and innovation”.

It is often omitted, but place-based solutions will be key. National Government cannot do this on their own; they will be reliant upon interventions from local transport authorities. Finally, on reducing carbon in a global economy, we are a leader, particularly for maritime and aviation. With those strategic themes in mind, I think the plan is a good one.

I will turn to a few more comments that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, made. We recognise that charging infrastructure will be one of the biggest challenges of our time, which is why we have committed £1.3 billion to ensure that we can decarbonise charging at home, in businesses and in public places. The Government will publish an electric vehicle infrastructure strategy later this year. That will set out exactly how we plan to take charging forward. We have also published our response to the consultation on smart charging, so we will lay regulations in the autumn. Therefore, all private devices will be required to be smart devices. That will benefit the energy network as a whole.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about how he was not entirely happy with the transition between the 2030 phase-out date for petrol and diesel and the 2035 one for zero emissions at the tail-pipe. That is exactly why we published the Green Paper on the carbon dioxide regulatory framework, because we want to engage with people as to exactly what that transition will look like between 2030 and 2035. We have two big options. We could tighten efficiency-based regulations to align with the petrol and diesel phase-outs, or we could do that and make a zero-emission mandate. It is the case that carbon dioxide targets alone do not guarantee the take-up of zero-emission vehicles, or indeed that the 2030 target can be enforced. We would welcome feedback from all noble Lords on that. Within that, there will be a consultation on what vehicles should be in scope—what does it look like between 2030 and 2035? We want to hear feedback, because then we will set the most ambitious targets that we can.

The noble Lord seems not to have been reading my Twitter feed recently, which is disappointing. He said that we were not supporting public transport as we come out of the pandemic. Again, that is not entirely right. I have managed to secure well over £200 million-worth of funding for buses—that will take the bus network through to April next year—and only last week a further £56 million for the light rail sector, which will make sure that our really important tram and light rail systems can continue to operate and provide the really important services they do.

More widely, upgrading local public transport is really important. Again, buried in the small print of the transport decarbonisation plan is something that made me very excited as the Minister for Places in the Department for Transport. We will ask local authorities to provide quantifiable carbon reductions as part of their local transport planning and funding. That is game-changing; it really is. It sounds very dull but it really is not, because when local transport authorities look to do their long-term transport plans they will need to put decarbonisation at their heart. If they do that alongside their bus service improvement plans and all the other transport planning they do, it will be really key for the future.

Before I sit down I will address the phrase that is so often bandied about: the “£27 billion road-building programme”. I do not know what the noble Lord and the noble Baroness are talking about. It is a programme that provides for the operation of the roads. Therefore, traffic officers, maintenance of the roads to ensure that they are safe for users, and the renewal of our bridges, a lot of which are now about 50 years’ old and need a lot of work, are included in all that. Then there is some money for enhancements. I again press the noble Lord and the noble Baroness: if they have any particular enhancements they wish me to scrub off the list, I will be very happy for them to mention them in the House next time and I will consider them.

To go back to roads—this is about not just the strategic road network but all roads—the point is that carbon is a key consideration for all road enhancement projects. When I receive the business case about whether to invest taxpayer funding into a road, we always look at carbon alongside safety, the economic case, air quality and biodiversity. All those things are taken into account when we make decisions on road investments.

I am grateful to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments. I look forward to talking about this in greater detail in the coming months.

Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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My Lords, we now come to the 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, for his many questions. Maritime is absolutely critical to our decarbonisation. At the moment, maritime is, unfortunately, very polluting. This is why we already have a lot of work under way. We published the Clean Maritime Plan in July 2019. We have committed £20 million for the clean maritime development competition. We are consulting on steps to support the uptake of shore power and, if necessary, we will mandate it. Clearly, the consultation needs to take place before we go around putting lots of plugs in ports.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, the Government may congratulate themselves on making “a world-leading pledge” on the sale of non-zero-emission road vehicles by 2040, but the people of this country will mainly be interested in the costs of achieving it, both to them individually and to the Exchequer. When will the Government publish a detailed plan answering this question, including the many costs to consumers, drivers and the 6 million businesses in the UK?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The Government have, of course, published the 2035 delivery plan for electric vehicles. The costs will vary significantly over time. We know what they are the moment. The Government are providing grants to people when they purchase their zero-emission vehicles. Over time those costs will change because innovation will lead to an overall reduction in the cost of electric cars. We will of course keep those costs under consideration.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, why is there no frequent flyer levy and why does the decarbonisation plan say nothing about demand management for flying?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My Lords, as I said, the Government do not want to set a demand cap because it sends entirely the wrong signal. We are anti-emission, not anti-flying. We believe there will be a rapid development of technology. The more we can set out our stall as to what our expectations are, the more we expect that development to increase.

Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates (LD) [V]
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My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of the potential for green hydrogen in decarbonising the maritime sector?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The noble Lord is quite right. Hydrogen will have many uses, mostly where batteries simply cannot reach. That will include heavy road freight, maritime and aviation. Therefore, we are looking very closely at what we can do for the hydrogen sector as a whole. We are funding the refuelling network and demonstration trials. I would have thought that some of the £20 million for the clean maritime demonstration competition might well go to hydrogen projects. It is really important that we remain technology agnostic. We believe that hydrogen could have a key role to play.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB) [V]
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My Lords, the Government’s transport decarbonisation plan rightly recognises that hydrogen has the co-benefits of reducing CO2 emissions and creating jobs and growth. Will the Minister therefore confirm that the Government will take ambitious action on the renewable transport fuel obligation? Can she confirm that the bus service operator grant to stimulate millions of pounds of investment in hydrogen production will apply only to green electricity and green hydrogen to accelerate the introduction of zero-emission buses, trains, trucks, ships and planes, all of which can be made in the UK?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The noble Baroness mentioned the bus services operator grant, which is key. Within the transport decarbonisation plan we set our plans for a green BSOG, an intervention that we believe will come into place in April 2022, but we will have a wider consultation on BSOG as a whole because at the moment it is a fossil fuel subsidy. It does not do what it is supposed to do, and therefore we need to make sure that it does in future and does not support fossil fuel use but encourages zero-emission buses.

Lord Moynihan Portrait Lord Moynihan (Con)
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I warmly congratulate the Minister and her colleagues on putting the strategy together. Does she agree that net zero HGVs by 2040 is aggressive? Can batteries ever be the complete solution given range restrictions versus the trade-off of the weight of the batteries versus the truck payload? I understand why it makes sense to use hydrogen to store excess electricity and manage peaks and troughs, but building in an assumption that it replaces a large baseload volume of energy, which is currently taken up by diesel, by 2040 is surely another stretch.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I have not addressed the HGV issue as yet, and it is important. That is why we are consulting: we believe there needs to be a date from which non-zero HGVs will not be able to be sold. There is another issue which we want to consult on—increasing the permissible weights for zero electric and alternatively fuelled HGVs down the road—but HGVs produce 16% of carbon emissions and we must do something about it. We are looking 15 to 20 years in the future. Leyland DAF already manufactures a 19-tonne battery electric HGV. We expect development to continue apace. That may well include hydrogen.

Lord West of Spithead Portrait Lord West of Spithead (Lab)
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My Lords, despite the maritime sector being economically larger than aviation and rail combined, it appears to be the poor relative in the Government’s net-zero drive. If we are to level up our coastal communities and bring shipbuilding home, we need the Government to invest in research and innovation on a scale similar to the automotive and aviation sectors. I hope something can be done in the autumn spending review to put the investment in place to do it. I shall push the Minister a little further on shore power points, which, after all, are very straightforward. How many are currently planned to be put in place? Can she confirm that they will be funded by industry and government together?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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Unfortunately the noble Lord is pushing me beyond my knowledge, but I will write to him about shore power points, how many there will be in future and who will fund them. On maritime as a whole, it is worth saying that the conversation has only just started. We must work with stakeholders on a course to zero for the maritime sector. We will increase our ambitions at the IMO, particularly when there is a review of greenhouse gas strategy in 2023. There are all sorts of things that we can do. This is the start of the story, not the end.

Lord Bradshaw Portrait Lord Bradshaw (LD) [V]
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In view of what is likely to be a chronic shortage of HGV drivers that will persist for years, will the Government urgently look again at investing in rail-freight schemes, particularly electrification schemes, which would replace road-based journeys with rail?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The Government recognise how important rail freight is and we will be doing more work on it. We will be looking to introduce a greater target for rail freight. The noble Lord will know—we have had this conversation many times—that the Government have already invested significant sums of money in rail-freight building, and we will continue to build on the £235 million that we invested in the strategic freight network in the five years to 2019. Work is under way and there are already grants to help the shift from road to rail where road has a slight financial advantage.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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My Lords, how many gigawatts per annum of battery production will be required to supply the UK automotive industry by 2030, when all new cars will be battery powered, and how does this number compare with current and planned domestic production capacity? Can the Minister also tell us whether the Government have a strategy for sourcing the critical raw materials for domestic battery production in the face of competition from other countries?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My Lords, this is rapidly turning into “Mastermind”. I cannot give the noble Lord the numbers he is after. I will go back to the department and see whether I can find any further information. It is important to understand that the Government are already investing significantly in the area of batteries. We have the £330 million Faraday battery challenge and the automotive transformation fund, which is £500 million focused on the supply chain. It has already invested in 50 feasibility projects. It will look at all elements of how we are going to make our electric vehicle production more effective.

Lord Herbert of South Downs Portrait Lord Herbert of South Downs (Con) [V]
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My Lords, James Bond’s next car will be the Aston Martin Valhalla, a plug-in hybrid supercar, but since 007 has no off-street parking and there are so few charging points available, he might have no choice but to ask Q for his petrol-engined DB10 back. Huge numbers of people cannot contemplate buying even a plug-in hybrid, let alone a fully electric car, even when they really want to, because we do not have anything like the necessary number of public charging points. With only eight and a half years to go before a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, what plans do the Government have for serious acceleration in the delivery of the necessary charging infrastructure?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My Lords, the Government empathise with James Bond and indeed with all people who do not have access to off-street parking. It is one of the challenges that we face. That is why the Government introduced the on-street residential charge point scheme—the ORCS. It is available to all UK local authorities to provide public charge points for their residents. So far it has awarded money to 120 local authorities to install nearly 4,000 charge points. I reassure my noble friend that the electric vehicle infrastructure strategy will be published later this year, and I think that will provide more reassurance to James Bond and everyone else.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government’s build back better strategy acknowledges the UK’s persistent technical skills shortage. The Automotive Council estimates the current need for upskilling at 10,000 workers, rising to 50,000 in four years and 100,000 by 2035. The Statement and plan today merely talk about building a skilled workforce for the transport industry, but how? Where is the action plan? Where is the sense of urgency? Can the Minister tell us what she and her department are doing to galvanise the production of an action plan to address these catastrophic shortfalls?

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The noble Baroness is quite right. In many areas, and as we shift to a decarbonised economy, we will need greater skills. The Department for Transport is working very closely with our colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education to build that strategy.

Lord Taylor of Goss Moor Portrait Lord Taylor of Goss Moor (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the two big blocks to people adopting electric vehicles, now that so many are available at high quality, are access to a charger and cost. The Minister mentioned the on-street charger support given to some local authorities, but not all have taken it up. For those with off-street parking, there is a subsidy for the charge box, but people are not guaranteed any help for on-street charging through, for example, a lamppost. Can the Government speed that up? At the same time, can they give certainty to businesses that there will be continuing support for electric vehicles through support for low levels of benefits-in-kind tax?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I think I have gone as far as I can on charging. We recognise that it is one of the greatest challenges facing the take-up of electric vehicles. My colleague the Minister for the Future of Transport is working diligently on making sure that we have the right plan in place for the £1.3 billion we will be investing in it over the next four years. That will be set out in the electric vehicle infrastructure strategy.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, one option for reducing CO2 emissions, of course, is to travel less. The Government could make it easy for people not to travel—that is, go into the office—if they do not want to, by making sure they have a high-quality internet connection. Is that something the Government are stressing at the moment?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The noble Baroness is quite right: we want people to travel the right amount, whatever that may be. The Government certainly have very ambitious plans when it comes to broadband connectivity. We want to roll it out to as many places as possible so that people can work from home if it is right for them and their employer.

Lord Triesman Portrait Lord Triesman (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, is entitled to a slightly more detailed response. Can the Minister tell us what the Government’s plans are for the encouragement of the development of gigafactories in all parts of the United Kingdom and what the optimum number of electric vehicles would be by 2035 in order to meet the targets?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I will provide more information to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and share it with all noble Lords with an interest. The Government are dedicated to securing gigafactories, working with investors within the UK. We hope to have seven 20-gigawatt gigafactories—I am not sure I have that right—very soon. It is absolutely key to the future for electric vehicles.

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Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, for the avoidance of doubt, will the Minister confirm whether hydrogen will be prioritised for hard-to-abate sectors such as shipping or heavy goods vehicles, rather than for areas that are relatively easy to decarbonise?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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This entire plan has tried to recognise that there is no one size fits all when it comes to decarbonisation. As I have already set out, hydrogen will be absolutely key when it comes to heavy road freight, maritime, aviation and maybe rail. We will also look to battery to decarbonise much of the traffic currently on the road. We recognise that to do this we need the right supply of batteries, all the components that go into batteries and the skills to produce the vehicles.

Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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My Lords, that concludes the list of questions.