05 August 2020

One of the main ambitions set out in EEH’s Draft Transport Strategy is for the region’s transport system to be ‘net-zero carbon’ by 2050 at the latest.

This implies a substantial change in the vehicle fleet towards zero-emission vehicles, coupled with technological solutions to improve both vehicle efficiencies and the use of the road and rail networks, and promoting behaviour change of drivers and passengers to reduce the number and nature of motorised trips in the region.

It is a challenging target for the fossil-fuel-dependent transport sector. UK government plans are currently to ban the sale of new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars in the UK from 2035, but overcoming public attitudes and uncertainties before then will prove challenging.  Interventions at all levels of government need to be purposeful, coordinated and measured if they are to achieve the target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Carbon emissions in the Heartland are higher and growing faster than the national average. As welcome as national measures such as the move towards the zero-emission vehicles are, we know we need to go further.

It is therefore necessary to analyse the potential impacts of different policy interventions and examine their sensitivity to future changes in society, the economy and technology that are impossible to predict with certainty.

To this end EEH commissioned the ECI (University of Oxford) and the NISMOD consortium to develop several ‘pathways’ to decarbonisation for the region.  The full report can be found here.

By adopting a ‘pathways’ approach, we have sought to analyse how a range of policy options could be ramped up, coordinated and adapted between now and 2050 in order to achieve the zero-carbon goal.

From the EEH perspective, the most effective approach for region to respond to our decarbonisation ambitions is a combination of two pathways. These are ‘Highly Connected’ and ‘Behaviour Shift (policy-led)’.

The ‘Highly Connected’ pathway focuses on the deployment of super-fast digital connectivity in the region. This enables better transport information provision to the public, better management of the transport network and the rapid deployment of autonomous vehicles. It supports changing work patterns and the technologies that will be required to facilitate them.

The additional economic and societal benefit of this pathway is clearly significant. Connectivity enables access to services, employment and new and emerging markets. The region is home to high-tech businesses, providing high value employment. Digital connectivity plays a key part in growing this aspect of the regional economy. It facilitates the transition to a truly modern, post-pilot transport ecosystem

The ‘Behaviour Shift (policy-led)’ pathway focuses on the impact of policy levers applied at a local level to reduce the number of car trips made on the network. The delivery mechanism used to deliver this is not specified and would need to be determined by our partners locally or at national level. It may include models such as pay-as-you-go, workplace parking levy, congestion charge in urban areas or more simply, a national road pricing initiative.

This pathway also assumes softer behaviour change measures to support this. These measures may in part be reliant on better data achieved through the ‘Highly Connected’ pathway and will encourage more active travel and low carbon modes (assuming there are local alternatives).

A combination of these two pathways presents a feasible route to decarbonisation for the Heartland, reflecting the knowledge and innovation capabilities that exist within the region, and the potential of this approach to deliver significant co-benefits to the economy.

James Golding-Graham is EEH's Innovation Manager