Clean Growth Strategy- Accelerating the shift to low carbon transport

The Climate Change Act, passed in 2008, committed the UK to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050 when compared to 1990 levels, through a process of setting five year caps on greenhouse gas emissions termed ‘Carbon Budgets’.

The Clean Growth Strategy published by the Government on 12 October 2017 aims to assist in delivering on that challenge.  At 165 pages in length the Clean Growth Strategy sets out, what the Government considers to be, a 'comprehensive set of policies and proposals that aim to accelerate the pace of “clean growth”, (i.e. deliver increased economic growth and decreased emissions).'  The two guiding objectives of the UK's approach to reducing emissions  are stated to be:

  1. To meet our domestic commitments at the lowest possible net cost to UK taxpayers, consumers and businesses; and,
  2. To maximise the social and economic benefits for the UK from this  transition.

With the focus, in meeting these objectives, being on the UK nurturing 'low carbon technologies, processes and systems that are as cheap as possible.'

This article focuses specifically on the proposals in the Clean Growth Strategy related to 'accelerating a shift to low carbon transport'.  Transport accounted for 24% of UK emissions in 2015.  The Government wants a more modern transport system that is clean, affordable and easy to use. This means cutting carbon dioxide emissions and improving air quality.  To meet this target almost every car and van will need to be zero emission by 2050. The main proposals set out in the Strategy to achieve this include:

Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles - Cars and Taxis

Ending  the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040 and supporting the take-up of ultra-low emission vehicles ("ULEV").  As well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, wide-scale adoption of ULEVs would improve health and quality of life by making the air cleaner in towns and cities.  The Government has therefore allocated £1 billion towards supporting the take-up of ULEVs, including helping consumers to overcome the upfront cost of an electric car.

The UK currently has over 115,000 ULEVs on the road. ULEV uptake has been driven through a combination of grants, which reduce the upfront costs of ultra-low emission cars by £4,500, together with improved charging infrastructure and new approaches like the £40 million Go Ultra Low Cities scheme. This scheme brings the Government and leading vehicle manufacturers together to explain the benefits of ULEVs to motorists and businesses, and its success has been internationally recognised. Through Go Ultra Low, eight local authority areas are trialling local initiatives including city centre charge point hubs, free parking and access to bus lanes for ULEVs. The Government intends to continue to work with industry on consumer communications on ULEVs until at least 2020, and will set out further detail on a long term strategy on the UK's transition to zero road vehicle emissions by March 2018.

ULEVs should become progressively more affordable as economies of scale are realised and they could provide savings for consumers compared to equivalent combustion engine cars by the mid-2020s or sooner. 

The Government will also provide £50 million for the Plug-in Taxi programme, which gives taxi drivers up to £7,500 off the purchase price of a new ULEV taxi, alongside £14 million to support ten local areas to deliver dedicated charge points for taxis.

ULEV - Public Transport

Low emission buses now represent 13% of all buses in the UK, but the Government wants to increase this to achieve significant uptake of ultra-low and zero emission buses. It is providing £100 million for a national programme of support for retrofitting and new low emission buses in England and Wales.

The Government will seek more use of electric, bi-mode (electric and diesel hybrid) and alternative fuel traction on the railway, and will continue to invest in route electrification where it benefits passengers. The industry is also developing trains powered by alternative fuels, such as using battery and hydrogen power. Moreover, the Government will work to enable cost-effective options for shifting more freight from road to rail, including using low emission rail freight for deliveries to urban areas, with zero emission last mile deliveries.

Electrical Vehicle Charging Networks

In order to support the roll out of ULEV, the Government wants and needs to develop one of the best electric vehicle ('EV') charging networks in the world.  It proposes to do this by:

  • Investing an additional £80 million to support charging infrastructure deployment, alongside £15 million from Highways England to ensure rapid charge points every 20 miles across 95% of England's Strategic Road Network.
  • Taking new powers under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, allowing the government to set requirements for the provision of charging points at motorway service stations and large fuel retailers, as well as ensuring that charge points are convenient to access and work seamlessly across the UK.

Connected and Autonomous Vehicles

The Government wants to position the UK at the forefront of research, development and demonstration of Connected and Autonomous Vehicle technologies, including through the establishment of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles ('CCAV') and investment of over £250 million, matched by the industry. These technologies have the potential to smooth traffic flows and increase efficiency of road transport. CCAV is also coordinating engagement with the wider research base and industry, identifying and reducing barriers to innovation or business expansion.


It is expected that around £841 million of public funds will be invested in innovation in low carbon transport technology and fuels. Investments include:

  • Ensuring the UK builds on its strengths and leads the world in design, development and manufacture of electric batteries through investment of up to £246 million over four years, as part of the Faraday Challenge.
  • Providing at least £70 million over the next five years to support innovation in energy storage, demand side response and other smart energy technologies, including up to £20 million for vehicle-to-grid products and services. This is focused on how an expanded fleet of EVs could provide network flexibility and system balancing while potentially offering benefits to bill payers.
  • Delivering trial of Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) platoons which could deliver significant fuel emissions savings. In August 2017, the Government announced a trial of HGV platoons, jointly funded with Highways England, which will see up to three HGVs travelling in convoy, with acceleration and braking controlled by the lead vehicle, and with a driver ready to take control at any time in all the HGVs. Platooning trials have been conducted across Europe and the USA, and these trials will assess whether the technology is appropriate and beneficial on UK roads.

The Clean Growth Strategy has been broadly welcomed by Industry and Environmental Groups, seen as a change in Government thinking and ambitious in its scope. However, it now needs to deliver on its aims.

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