A greener transport future for Wales?

Published 27/11/2020   |   Last Updated 22/12/2020   |   Reading Time minutes

Transport is the largest greenhouse gas emitting sector in the UK. It accounted for 24% of the UK’s emissions in 2019, and 16% of Wales’ emissions in 2018 (2019 data for Wales will be available in December 2020). Whilst the coronavirus pandemic has inevitably meant a reduction in emissions from transport, mainly due to fewer car journeys, the climate emergency hasn’t gone away.

In Leading Wales out of the coronavirus pandemic: a framework for recovery the Welsh Government recognised the potential opportunities that rapid changes in behaviour, including travel, could have for decarbonisation.

The post-pandemic era will see a mix of old and new transport challenges emerge, not least the sustainability of socially distanced public transport; facilitating active travel alongside essential car use; and ensuring that decarbonisation is at the heart of new arrangements for rail.

In late 2019 and early 2020 the Senedd’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills (EIS) Committee undertook an inquiry into the decarbonisation of transport. Whilst most of the evidence was collected pre-pandemic, the report reflects on how lessons learned during the pandemic can shape the future approach to transport. It explored a range of areas, including funding models, technology, public transport, freight, rail, aviation and shipping, and modal shift. The Welsh Government responded to the report in September, and provided a further update in mid-November.

This blog looks at the findings from the Committee’s inquiry, set against the wider policy context and the new Wales Transport Strategy.

What are we trying to achieve?

The Welsh Government’s overarching ambition for reducing transport emissions is set out in its low carbon plan, Prosperity for All: A low carbon Wales. The plan outlines policies and proposals to help Wales meet its target of reducing transport sector emissions by 43% (from baseline levels) by 2030. These include increasing active travel and the use of public transport; behaviour change; and measures to support electric vehicles (EVs).

The Welsh Government has described its transport decarbonisation targets as “hugely ambitious”. But some of the evidence to the EIS Committee suggested that the targets don’t go far enough if Wales is serious about its declaration of a climate emergency and achieving its decarbonisation ambition (a 95% reduction in emissions by 2050, with an ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by the same date).

However, others suggested that in the (pre-pandemic) policy context, taking into account factors such as congestion, technology, and limited powers over aviation and shipping, the targets are too ambitious and unlikely to be met without radical action.

The wider UK

The devolution settlement affects the Welsh Government’s ability to deliver its transport decarbonisation targets. Key areas such as motor vehicle standards and rail infrastructure planning and funding remain a UK Government responsibility. While the Welsh Government owns Cardiff Airport, aviation is also a reserved matter. Consequently, UK Government policy in relation to transport decarbonisation will have a significant impact in Wales.

The UK Government is currently developing its own plan for decarbonising transport, building on its Road to Zero Strategy. The UK Government’s 10 point plan for a “Green Industrial Revolution” pledges to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, ten years earlier than previously planned, and ramp up investment for EV infrastructure and grants for vehicles.

The new Wales Transport Strategy

The consultation on the new Wales Transport Strategy, Llwybr Newydd, was launched on 17 November. The strategy sets out the Welsh Government's long-term ambition for an accessible, sustainable transport system. The first of five priorities identified focuses on responding to the climate emergency by addressing decarbonisation across each transport sector. It will also develop a Decarbonisation Pathway, and make use of a range of other regulatory, financial and policy levers.

The strategy says that the Pathway will form part of the Welsh Government’s next low carbon delivery plan (due in 2021), and will include specific pieces of work including:

  • An electric vehicle (EV) charging plan;
  • A demand management plan;
  • Work on hydrogen and other innovations; and
  • Initiatives designed to change behaviour, such as road pricing.

The Welsh Government intends to publish its EV charging plan for consultation by the end of 2020. In its EV charging inquiry the EIS Committee identified energy and grid capacity as a barrier to moving to fully electric vehicles. It is hoped that the forthcoming plan will provide further detail on how infrastructure to support EVs will be developed and put in place across Wales.

Sector by sector

Rail

During its inquiry the EIS Committee heard that rail is one of the lowest carbon transport modes. Transport for Wales (TfW) said that its plans to electrify the ‘Core Valleys Lines’ will result in lines powered by 100% renewable energy, leading to a 25% reduction in carbon emissions across the network. The Committee recognised that fuel conversion technologies, and development of strategies for carbon free traction present significant potential for decarbonising rail.

The new transport strategy states that over the next five years the Welsh Government will work with Network Rail, Transport for Wales and the UK Government to electrify the Welsh rail fleet by 2040.

Bus

The low carbon plan set a commitment that all buses in Wales will have zero tailpipe emissions by 2028. The EIS Committee recommended the Welsh Government should outline its latest thinking on the comparative cost effectiveness of retrofitting newer diesel buses to EVs, rather than replacing the whole fleet with new EVs, following issues raised by the sector, particularly around costs.

In a recent letter to the Committee, updating his response to the Committee’s report, the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, Ken Skates MS, recognised that the bus sector will need support to transition to a fully zero emission fleet by 2028. He promised a plan to deliver on this aim.

Taxi and private hire vehicles

The EIS Committee outlined the need for the taxi and private hire sector to be provided with support to decarbonise, and called for further detail about the Welsh Government’s plans and timescales for licensing reform within the sector.

The strategy says the Welsh Government will ensure the uptake of zero emission vehicles, and it has outlined its plans to introduce a “try before you buy” scheme for EVs. It will also be looking at incentives such as lease schemes, loans, and regulation, to facilitate the switch to cleaner vehicles. This action is set against the low carbon delivery plan target for all licensed vehicles to be zero emission by 2028.

Freight

Freight is one of the areas where the EIS Committee identified a lack of direction and focus in the Welsh Government’s current low carbon plan. The strategy outlines its intention to develop an approach to the significant growth in last mile and express delivery, and to understand how best to manage this alongside ambitions to reduce congestion and tackle decarbonisation. It says:

Wales has the infrastructure, capability and capacity to support a more sustainable freight and logistics sector including innovative business models that encourage commercial growth alongside decarbonisation.

We will work with the sectors and partners to identify meaningful measures for freight and logistics to better understand the complex interactions between freight, logistics and the wider network and to set targets for decarbonisation.

Aviation and shipping

Aviation and shipping are areas where the Welsh Government has fewer levers to progress its decarbonisation agenda. The EIS Committee called for the Welsh Government to outline how Cardiff Airport fits into its plans for a low carbon transport network, and what its expectations are for short and long term decarbonisation.

The new transport strategy recognises the decarbonisation challenges in aviation. It says Cardiff Airport has a robust decarbonisation strategy, delivering measures such as onsite generation, energy exporting and carbon neutral buildings – and that it is working with the airport to reduce the environmental impacts of aviation. For ports, the Welsh Government says it will invest in projects that deliver more sustainable port infrastructure and which contribute to decarbonisation in the sector.

Community transport

The new strategy also outlines plans for the community transport sector. It says that encouraging people to travel together will reduce the environmental impact of travel. It sets out the Welsh Government’s aim to capture the scope and potential of third sector transport, and better understand the wider economic, social, environmental and cultural benefits it delivers. It states its aim that, by 2040, community transport will have made greater use of alternative vehicle technologies

This chimes with the Committee’s recommendation for the Welsh Government to better engage with the community transport sector on its decarbonisation agenda, and to provide support on vehicles, infrastructure and operations.

Active travel

One of the Committee’s recommendations was on encouraging safe active travel, and the need to provide support to local authorities to provide suitable infrastructure in response to the pandemic. This is all the more relevant given recent behaviour change and modal shift, and in light of the challenges the pandemic has brought for public transport.

The new strategy outlines the Welsh Government’s vision for active travel, and extols the benefits for the environment, emissions, air quality and biodiversity. Whilst the Committee touched on active travel as part of its inquiry, the focus was more on the areas outlined above to avoid duplication of its previous work on active travel in 2018.

The Senedd will debate the Committee’s report on 2 December, and you can watch live on Senedd TV.


Article by Chloe Corbyn, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament