The UK’s transport sector has been the country’s largest emitter since 2016, with emissions roughly in line with 1990 levels while emissions from most other sectors continue to decline. Despite the UK Government’s Ten Point Plan for achieving economy-wide emissions reductions having a strong focus on the transport sector, emission reductions projected to result from this plan are minor, at around 1 MtCO₂e per year. This is despite implementing an ambitious 2030 ban on the sale of fossil fuel cars, a GPB 1 billion investment in electrification of UK vehicles and their supply chains, and an increase in funding for walking and cycling infrastructure as well as for expanded public transportation services. Cars account for 61% of surface transport emissions in the UK and 78% of vehicle kilometres travelled, meaning further measures and funding are crucial.
The UK governments justifies its GBP 27 billion investment in upgrading and expanding the country’s strategic road network by projections of strong demand growth for personal vehicle travel. Far greater investments to encourage modal shift could instead help to deliver the steep reduction in direct CO₂ emissions shown by the illustrative 1.5°C pathways of around a third below 2019 levels by 2030. Scenarios modelled by the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) show that 7-16% of car travel could be avoided through modal shift by 2030, and 12-34% by 2050.
The future technology mix for low-carbon transport shows a wide variation including battery technology rapidly developing and renewable hydrogen expected to play a significant role. Investing in sufficient charging infrastructure to catalyse the transition to EVs will be crucial. Over the short term, however, making efficient mass transit and non-vehicle travel as cheap and convenient as possible can significantly reduce demand for personal vehicle travel and flying.
The UK government’s 2021 Transport Decarbonisation Plan targets a 2040 date for reaching net zero emissions from domestic aviation, with total aviation emissions to reach net zero by 2050. The strategy does not include measures to reduce demand for flying, however.