Committee: Wales needs to get a move on to decarbonise transport

(Title Image: Senedd Cymru)

Economy & Infrastructure Committee
Decarbonisation of transport (pdf)
Published: 14th July 2020

“This report reflects evidence received well before the current health and economic crisis, which saw the transport network grind to an almost total halt, and carbon emissions fall significantly. Global daily carbon emissions fell by 17% at the peak of lockdown, with almost half of that due to fewer car journeys. The climate emergency hasn’t gone away, and the economy must now re-open under new and extremely challenging conditions.”
– Committee Chair, Russell George MS (Con, Montgomery)

1. The pace of change in infrastructure and planning is far too slow

Surface transport is the largest single contributor to carbon emissions in the UK with 23% of emissions coming from land-based transport.

Both the UK and Welsh governments are setting priorities to cut this, including the phasing-out of new petrol and diesel vehicle sales, new standards for low-emissions vehicles and improvements to and expansion of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

There was no clear consensus on whether this would be enough by itself to hit emission reduction targets, with problems relating to the price of electric vehicles (currently only accessible, by and large, to the wealthy) and the high up-front capital cost of things like electric buses. Green Alliance said retrofitting diesel buses in Germany to higher emissions standards worked out to be 50% cheaper than buying new electric buses.

As for taxis, the Committee was told that licensing and national standards – possibly even a grant scheme – would need to be reformed or looked at before taxi drivers could make a switch to electric. Additionally, Cardiff Airport said short-haul electric aircraft are becoming available and could be used for Cardiff-Anglesey flights.

It was unclear whether the grid could cope with a wholesale switch to electric vehicles – something the Committee recommended the Welsh Government clarifies.

2. There’s no clear consensus on how to pay for decarbonisation of transport

The Future Generations Commissioner said up to £240million would be required for 2020-21 alone to make the necessary investments in active travel, public transport and improving uptake of electric vehicles.

Other alternative funding models put forward by witnesses included electric vehicle subsidies, lease and loan arrangements for electric bus batteries and electric buses and public-private partnerships to install charging infrastructure.

The Welsh Government are seeking to invest in low carbon public transport infrastructure projects, with £29million allocated – but public caution around using public transport in light of the coronavirus pandemic may force the government to rethink this in order to prevent a mass shift back to cars.

3. Road freight will be difficult to decarbonise, though the process may force rail electrification to be sped up

The Committee was told there were no clear answers on how road haulage could be made low-carbon. The battery requirements for electric HGVs would be significant, while other possible solutions – such as overhead wiring for electric HGVs – may be impractical.

Amongst the suggestions was for delivery companies to use low carbon vehicles for “last mile” legs of the delivery process, or using excess space on public transport to move parcels for home delivery or click-and-collect. Another suggestion was improving route efficiency through computer software.

The general issue of freight and decarbonisation may speed up the electrification of the railways (particularly along key freight routes) – though the policy levers are largely non-devolved. Transport for Wales said their plans to power the South Wales Metro with 100% renewable energy, together with new rolling stock, will cut rail emissions in Wales by 25%.

Hydrogen is a possible alternative, but there are practical limitations; hydrogen-powered trains can’t use long tunnels and fuel storage is a problem for both trains and HGVs.

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