Transport accounts for around 27% of UK emissions © JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
Transport accounts for around 27% of UK emissions © JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Phase-out of diesel trucks a 'blue skies aspiration'

An industry body has criticised government plans to decarbonise freight transport as unachievable and a “blue skies aspiration”.

The UK government has announced diesel and petrol heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) are to be phased out by 2040 as part of plans to decarbonise Britain's transport sector. 

Richard Burnett, chief executive at the Road Haulage Association, said: “This proposal as it stands is unrealistic. These alternative HGVs don’t yet exist – we don’t know when they will and what they will cost.

“It’s also not clear what any transition will look like – this is blue skies aspiration. For many haulage companies there are fears around cost of new vehicles and a collapse in resale value of existing lorries.”

The announcement comes as part of the government’s Transport decarbonisation plan, which sets out an intention to phase out polluting vehicles weighing between 3.5 tonnes and 26 tonnes from 2035, and those weighing more than 26 tonnes from 2040. 

Transport is the single biggest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions in the UK, representing roughly 27% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. While the Covid-19 pandemic saw a drastic reduction in travel, emission levels are now returning to pre-pandemic levels. 

The plan was originally due to be published in late 2020, but was delayed due to Covid-19. The government has already invested over £2bn into the country’s transport sector throughout the pandemic. 

Gary Carter, national officer at trade union GMB, said the plans were unrealistic and a more thorough plan was needed to tackle the problem. 

“Talking big on the environment ahead of a climate summit is all well and good,” he said in reference to the upcoming COP26 climate summit, taking place in Glasgow in November.

“But we need proper investment, a proper plan and real action; action to create well paid green jobs and affordable, net-zero carbon transport options for consumers. 

“We desperately need investment in hydrogen and bio-methane technologies as power options for HGV and construction vehicles. The UK is massively behind the rest of the Europe and playing catch up.”

However, Logistics UK welcomed the plans, stressing the targets should give businesses the confidence to take steps towards achieving net-zero in their emissions. 

Elizabeth de Jong, director of policy at Logistics UK, said: “The Transport decarbonisation plan will help to provide logistics businesses with confidence and clarity on the steps they must take on the pathway to net zero. 

“Consultation on proposed phase out dates for new diesel HGVs should enable business to move forwards with confidence. Rail, shipping and aviation are all essential parts of logistics, so plans to support freight modal shift and develop technologies to reduce emissions across these modes are welcome.”

The government argues the plans are a world first, and will help bring economic growth.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “It’s not about stopping people doing things: it’s about doing the same things differently.

“The Transport decarbonisation plan is just the start – we will need continued efforts and collaboration to deliver its ambitious commitments, which will ultimately create sustainable economic growth through healthier communities as we build back greener.”

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