DecarboniseNow in November: New government, same challenges

Well here we are with a new government, a new business minister, a new environment minister, and a new transport minister – again. With so much change afoot, it’s difficult to keep track of what’s happening in the net zero space. Fortunately, DecarboniseNow has you covered. From now on, we’ll be running monthly updates on our campaign and progress in the wider world for our vision of clean decarbonised transport.

So, broadly, where are we at? New transport secretary Mark Harper is no stranger to net zero, being a former member of the Conservative Environment Network caucus. He has also written about net zero at length previously, and was an early supporter of the net zero target. Equally, previous transport secretary Grant Shapps now fills the Business Secretary role – hopefully all the lessons learned from transport decarbonisation will equip him for the challenges of power, heat and industrial decarbonisation.

The supply chains of electric vehicles have unexpectedly come under media scrutiny this month, with MINI’s extremely disappointing decision to uproot production of electric vehicles from its Oxford plant to China. The existing production facilities for petrol vehicles remain open – hopefully this offers to keep the door ajar for electric vehicle production to return. The move to China is not only disappointing for keeping supply chains in Britain, but environmental and labour practises in a Chinese factory, not to mention shipping cars halfway around the world to the UK, is a backwards step on cleaning up the sustainability of car production, even EVs. Britishvolt too suffered a near collapse, only to be rescued at the eleventh hour. The battle to keep electric vehicle production in Britain looks far from over, and policy will have to find creative ways to keep British industry competitive. One bright spot however did finally occur, with the Teeside industrial cluster looking set to become the first lithium refinery outside of Asia. We hope this will be used as an opportunity to bring more transparency and sustainability to the lithium supply chain.

Your MINI Electric – now moving from Oxford to China

Beyond new governments and supply chains, where is DecarboniseNow at this month? Currently, the response to the Zero Emission Vehicle mandate from earlier in the year has not been released. Our main focus will be next steps for ramping up electric vehicles uptake through the mandate, with the mandate getting ready for its launch in 2024 by being as ambitious as it needs to be. Other core priorities will be making sure charging infrastructure catches up, what we can do to help with the above supply chain issues, keeping charging for EVs smart and stress free on the electricity grid, further work on reducing the share of hybrids in the mix, and continuing the trials for emission free HGVs. There’s plenty to keep up with as we head into the Winter!

This will hopefully be the first of many monthly updates here at DN. You can keep up automatically in future by clicking the ‘Follow’ button in the bottom right and entering your email. Stay tuned as we head into Christmas and 2023!


Clean transport: Moment of truth or moment of denial?

DecarboniseNow has been campaigning on a variety of areas, from renewables to retrofits, but the most central campaign to its heart has been decarbonising transport. It is still my belief that success or failure in decarbonising transport over this decade will swing the balance on whether we can radically get our emissions down, or whether we will lag behind. One of the policy DN has campaigning for is a ban on selling conventional cars and vans as early as feasibly possible, which expert literature says is by 2030. Whether you want motorways to become giant cycle lanes, or guilt free permission to drive a giant Tesla SUV, everyone who wants a cleaner, more sustainable future should want this outcome as opposed to a later, less ambitious date. To see more of our reasoning, check out the electric vehicles campaign page here. As Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to give a new green speech this week, and it is widely expected that it will include the decision on when to ban old fashioned cars and vans, here is an update on what to look for and what DecarboniseNow has been doing about it.

The story so far. Transport is the largest source of emissions in the UK, and as electric cars are readily available solutions, phasing them and other alternatives in as quickly as possible is paramount for tackling climate change. To this end, a 2030 ban on conventional cars was considered in 2018, but pushed back to 2040 by then-transport secretary Chris Grayling. DecarboniseNow outlined reasons for bringing the ban forward to 2030 to current transport minister Grant Shapps as soon as it became active, towards the end of 2019. A few weeks after the Department replied, saying the government was to consider further action, a new consultation on bringing forward the end date of petrol and diesel was launched. DecarboniseNow submitted its evidence to the consultation for a 2030 ban in a paper, which you can now read on the website here. The government’s operating assumption was to aim for a 2035 date, a welcome improvement on 2040, but it would still result in a phase out twice as slow as a 2030 ban. With the consultation extended due to Covid19, a decision on the ban was meant to be made back in September, but was pushed further back to allow more debate with the automotive industry. DecarboniseNow in response has since written to both the Department of Transport and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, as well as their respective ministers, asking them to make the right decision.

Now, reports have indicated that it’s very likely we can expect an announcement from the Prime Minister about a decision in a speech this week. So what possible scenarios can we expect from this speech?

  • 1) The decision is delayed again. A bit disappointing, but it won’t really matter if the outcome is the right one. It gives both sides of the argument more chance to impress.
  • 2) The entire consultation and process is void, and the 2040 date remains. This seems unlikely, given the almost year long process of consulting on bringing the ban forward, and such a move is likely to be deeply unpopular.
  • 3) A 2035 date is specified, with little additional detail. 2035 is an improvement, but as stated above, the bare minimum and unambitious. If this is governmental non-binding goal, with no additional policies on how to get there, this will poor showing for such a long consultation process.
  • 4) The same, but with many additional policies to increase electric vehicle uptake. Again, this would not be ambitious, but it would at least create greater clarity in the short term. Many of these plans may be put in the simultaneous Transport Decarbonisation Plan, also under development.
  • 5) A 2032 date. This has been floated as well, in part because the Scottish government already has this date for its own market. Talk of a 2032 date has dropped off in recent months, but nevertheless, it may act as a compromise measure.
  • 6) A 2030 date. This would be truly ambitious, pushing to the limit of what is achievable by the industry, leading the world in sustainable transport, and tackling climate change the fastest.
  • 7) And again, if that is backed up with greater policy development, like yearly quotas for electric vehicle sales, greater fiscal incentives and charging infrastructure targets, the UK can start a truly ambitious, sustainable clean transport revolution.

So, how will the story continue? It’s not clear yet, but DecarboniseNow will be covering developments every step of the way. Updates to any announcements will be put up on here, and cover the details, so you don’t miss out. In the mean time, we can only hope the government is tackling climate change at running rather than walking pace, and treating it like the planetary crisis it is.

Checking in on the Green Recovery

The main appeal of a Green Recovery is it could unlock a windfall of investment.

The great tragedy that scientists have been warning us about for decades that governments around the world haven’t done enough to prepare for has finally hit us. No, not climate change, the other one. I was very much in two minds about writing this blog – after all, what hasn’t been said about Covid 19 at this point, including its parallels and links to the climate crisis. However, conversation about the economic recovery, including the green recovery, seems to have waned, in part because cases continue to rise in what may well have been classed as a second wave by the time I reach the end of this. So, allow me to take the next few hundred words to check in on how the green recovery is doing, and what we should be asking from it.

We’ve seen a raft of green announcements from the government over the course of the year, even at a time when the phrase ‘Covid 19’ would have brought up some very blank Google searches. The decarbonisation of transport is being increasingly looked at, due to the Department of Transport’s mega-plan in that area. Part of the government’s green plans have unusually included retrofits, £2bn worth in a new scheme, the Green Homes Guarantee. However, this fall far short of the £9bn promised in the Conservative party’s own manifesto, and many more than the £35-65bn-ish to 2035 some experts say is required. If this is ‘phase one’ then all well and good, but there has been little noise about a ‘phase two’, nor the serious questions of how to decarbonise heat. Hydrogen and CCS have got some long overdue investment too, but there still isn’t much of a strategic plan. When can we expect pilot projects? What is the market going to look like by 2030?

There’s also the matter of research and development announcements, which the government seems very fond of. While R&D announcements are always welcome, they are not a substitute for actual action. It’s worth noting that the biggest announcements this year from the government have been the 40GW offshore wind target, large public transport infrastructure announcements, bringing forward the 2040 internal combustion engine ban, and onshore wind and solar becoming eligible for future investment – all of which happened before the Covid crisis. Oops. (Although to be fair, since the first draft of this the government did make some noise about a 2030 petrol and diesel ban, only to push it back further in the year – so we’re still left waiting to see). What we’re left with are some fairly sporadic if welcome announcements which do little to tie into a wider plan.

So what should we be asking from a green recovery, if not this? A question that springs to mind to me is, what’s changed? Are we going to stop asking for renewables, or ask for five times as many now there is an economic and health crisis? Neither is the answer – renewable projects are essential, and the volume requested by environmentalists before was based mostly on practical necessity, not political calculations. So really, all the green recovery does is give a platform to ask for the the same demands as before, not a raft of new more radical demands because we feel like it. Renewables, interconnection, storage, electric vehicles, public transports, retrofits, low carbon heating, energy and resource efficiency – none of these have changed because of the economic recovery. The only thing that has changed is the opportunity – a fantastic chance to battle a major threat even in the darkest of times. That’s all the green recovery is, nothing more. It’s not a cheat code to unlock secret powers or make the previously impossible possible. It’s that, if the government yet again kicks the can down the road on heat decarbonisation, or yet again produces a transport plan that buckles on ambition at the last minute, it will be a spectacular and disastrous waste of an already disastrous year. The green recovery doesn’t allow us to go net zero tomorrow, nor does it completely change what need to happen to get us there. It’s a more emotional concept, one of a phoenix rising from the ashes, finding hope and strength in the face of adversity. And that’s completely fine, in fact it’s beautiful. The green recovery is rallying speech when all seems lost, our call to arms after defeat. At the very least, it’s an opportunity to remind us that we can do better. Because the world continues to spin new crises, and the climate flavoured one will endure for far longer than our current situation.