If you have read any of our other articles exploring the UK’s decarbonising transport plan – and the wider path to NetZero when it comes to transport – it’s fair to say we are a little sceptical about the scope and ambition of the Department for Transport’s (DfT) plan.

During the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland leaders from across the world came together at a crucial moment for our planet in the face of climate change.Among the declarations and announcements, the summit’s transportation day saw twenty four countries and a number of leading car manufacturers – including Ford, Volvo and Mercedes – sign a pledge to end fossil fuel vehicle sales by 2040; although major car industry nations – the US, China and Germany – all declined to sign.

In exploring the UK’s transport decarbonisation plan, we have noted that while removing fossil fuel cars from the road is an admirable goal – it is not a fix on its own. Significant infrastructure changes at a national level will have to accompany such a shift. 

For the UK, there are other areas that may provider greater benefits too – than the, perhaps more eye-catching, target of replacing fossil-fuelled vehicles with electric and hydrogen-fuelled ones. Here’s five examples of tangible actions that the UK, and other nations, could take today to accelerate our progress towards NetZero:

Create safe and healthy environments

As Sarah Simpson, UK Transport Planning Lead at Royal HaskoningDHV, detailed in her article on the importance of road safety and behaviour change in achieving NetZero – creating safe and healthy environments and urban/suburban highway capacity provides the foundation for people to make shifts to walking, cycling, public transport more easily, comfortably and safely.

The government should re-prioritise infrastructure towards ensuring at least half of all urban journeys are walking, cycling, e-bike/e-scooter or e-cargo bike by 2030 (at the latest), and prioritise local bus and light rail journey times over those achievable by private vehicles.

Centre biodiversity 

Without getting too abstract – all of our infrastructure and economies rely on functioning and flourishing biodiversity. By ensuring every UK transport project – costing over £5m in construction value, as an example criterion – delivers a tangible biodiversity net gain (i.e. through urban/corridor-wide greening) we can bring biodiversity into the fold of our infrastructure developments and help the planet as we go.

Establish government-backed green infrastructure and innovation 

In the United States, the ‘Green New Deal’ has become a consistent political talking point – discussing a major shift away from fossil fuels, and towards creating green infrastructure projects and jobs in the process.

The UK could be similarly bold here - establishing a Government-backed green infrastructure and innovation fund to attract private sector / pension fund investment through guaranteed yields in relation to:

  • EV charging infrastructure and equitably-priced electricity for the 25% of UK homes without off-street parking
  • Clean vehicle propulsion technologies.
  • Low carbon (high value) infrastructure design, construction and delivery. 
  • All other interventions requiring stable, long-term funding.

Work with local city and town councils and mayors

As much as the government should be working hard towards NetZero targets, it doesn’t have to do everything alone. There are times when they could do best to step out of the way and hand more autonomy, powers and funding to local cities, councils and mayors who are ready and eager to enact climate-neutral policies. 

Cities like Bristol and Nottingham have already declared climate emergencies and called on government in the past to release funding shackles that prevent them from cracking-on with delivering their plans and unlocking local private sector commitments. 

This collaboration and cooperation could start with something small but impactful, like agreeing an increasing and expanding number of car-free days or zones, as a precursor to more significant changes.

Reduce public transport costs

Public transport costs are a much-discussed topic in the UK – with many modes notably more expensive than European counterparts. 

Reducing the price of public transport is a potential quick-win for the government on the NetZero journey. Specifically, funding free and extensive public transport services in towns and cities with populations over 40,000 – along with reducing UK rail fares for inter-urban journeys – would not only promote a shift towards public transport, but is also likely to be popular. To be truly effective, it needs to be balanced by ensuring the cost of car use (fuel, ownership, parking) more closely reflects the harm that private car use is doing to the planet.

Some of these suggestions may sound bold, but the reality facing us in the wake of increasing climate events and global warming means such actions are urgently necessary to avert disaster. 

By working together for change, adapting our infrastructure and approaches to transport – while mobilising finance effectively – the goal of NetZero by 2050 is not out of reach. But post-COP26 the eyes of the world will be on how serious our different nations are about this issue – more than ever, only time will tell.

Visit our COP26 page to discover more about the work Royal HaskoningDHV is doing to support and drive change towards the goals of this year’s UN climate conference. 

There you can also find more of our articles detailing the road to transport decarbonisation in the UK – and how the Department for Transport’s plans fair against the reality of climate change facing our world.