Why the north needs new powers to deliver on decarbonisation

This post is by Piers Forster, professor of physical climate change and director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds, and Climate Change Committee  representative on the Transport for North Partnership Board.

Transport for the North (TfN) will shortly be launching a consultation on its decarbonisation strategy, which has already been approved in its current form by civic and business leaders across the North. It is the first regional strategy of its kind in the UK will provide a benchmark for other regions. In the meantime, it is important to hear from politicians; officials; business groups; interest groups; and, of course, the people of the north of England, through the consultation to make sure the strategy is as strong as it needs to be.

To begin, the document itself isn’t just about solutions, it is also about collating and harnessing the experience, skills and natural resources that exist in the north and turning them into an achievable vision for low carbon transport. For example, there are different obstacles to overcome across areas of the north. A city centre will have very different challenges to a rural area and understanding how these can be brought together under a common framework will be important to build a successful plan that articulates, and provides context for, the transport priorities for the whole region.

TfN’s analysis indicates that around 70 per cent of road transport emissions in the region originate from trips on our major and strategic road networks. To reduce these, we all need to understand where and how people travel and what the local needs are at either end of a journey. With this in mind, the strategy already has some ambitious and deliverable goals: a 55 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from 2018 by 2030, primarily through modal shift and demand reduction, increasing to 95 per cent reduction in emissions by 2040, aided by technological improvements, such as zero emission vehicles. There is also an aim to reach close to zero carbon emissions from surface transport in the north by 2045, which is sooner than national policy.

Understanding of local needs and co-operation between different areas of the north will help to produce the steps needed that will be so important to hit the challenging targets we all face, and that is why the feedback received on the current strategy is so important.

Regional strategy can only go so far
A regional strategy is an important piece of the national puzzle to reaching net zero but, however comprehensive it is, there are levers that need to be pulled elsewhere, particularly at the national level. TfN is an advisory body to the government. It does not have the power to implement change in the same way as Westminster. The opportunities are huge but the need for certainty on the role of Sub-National Transport Bodies (STBs) is crucial and the government should take close account of the evidence base being prepared by TfN and other STBs, as well as the strong local relationships that have been forged between them.

Other overarching issues that urgently need to be resolved nationally and locally include: a clear national policy framework for transport; clear direction on road user charging and how it applies to all types of roads; inclusivity, particularly how we tackle the decarbonisation challenge for those living in rural and coastal communities; and certainty around future policy on fuel to address the number of lorries flying around the country getting goods where they need to be. Furthermore, the role of spatial planning in shaping how we travel; and the Department for Transport’s Transport Appraisal Guidance needs to take a more systemic view on the cost of carbon.

Let us hope that the much anticipated Transport Decarbonisation Plan will answer some of these questions and clarify the role of Sub-national Transport Bodies.

There is no doubt that having a regional decarbonisation strategy will be a major, positive step and, even without the power to go further, it will provide context for Transport for the North’s local partners, a co-ordinated message from the north to the government, and a template for other regions. If it is to truly make a difference, however, the north needs to be given the power to implement it and the public and private sectors need to join together in the mission.

There is much of the north’s skills and experience in the strategy already, but with wider input through the consultation, it can be even stronger and, with the right powers, the north can ensure it’s delivered. Even before the consultation, this is proof of what the north can do, and why it needs to be listened to.

The consultation on Transport for the North’s Decarbonisation Strategy will begin on Monday 7 June and run for 12 weeks.

2 comments

  • The challenge surely is to combine decarbonisation with cheaper more available public transport?

  • Replacing diesel trucks on motorways with a rail freight network would help but wouldn’t be cheap

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