Reducing air pollution with an industrial strategy
As environment campaigners, transport is a tricky issue, we want to be able to commute and travel without damaging our health or the planet. The Government approach to Transport policy has to evolve, if we want to end the air pollution fuelled health crisis and help keep global temperatures to safe levels
The problems of failing CO2 emission targets and illegally polluting air are not insurmountable. But to solve them, more money must be spent on transport and policy. A green future is electric and rethinks how we travel. It is a future that makes walking, cycling, public transport and car sharing, desirable.
Last week the Government announced its Autumn Statement – one of the first moments since the new Government took office where we began to see Theresa May put her policy agenda and vision for the country into action. For better or worse, Transport was a big topic in the announcement. So how did it measure up?
On the positive side the government committed £390 million between now and 2020 to be spent supporting ULEV’s (Ultra Low Emission Vehicles). Sounds like a lot of cash? But remember we need every new UK car to be an EV in slightly less than 15 years time. For contrast spend on Heathrow’s third runway alone is going to be over £17 billion by the airport, plus up to £18bn for the additional surface access infrastructure. If we’re serious about electrification, every motorway service station needs to have hundreds of fast charging points and the power infrastructure to support them and nearly everywhere you see a car parked, there needs to be a charge point. Without this infrastructure EV’s will remain second cars of the better off rather than a real option for the majority of the car buying public. This infrastructure is going to cost billions but this isn’t throwing good money into some weird electric vortex, its an investment in hundreds of thousands of well paid, skilled jobs and the building of a transport system and economy fit for the 21st century.
£220 million was committed to non local road building as well as £1.1 billion for non-major roads and commitments to take forward a lot of other major schemes. This joins the 15 billion the government has already committed to a major road building programme. Spending this kind of money on road building is a colossal mistake for two key reasons. First off it’s been proven again and again that building more roads encourages more cars therefore increasing pollution and CO2 emissions in the short term, taking entirely in the wrong direction. In medium to long term this road space is likely to end up being an under utilised 15 billion pound tarmac elephant as an increasing number of cars become self driving reducing both the space cars need on the road and in all likelihood the total number of cars as ownership structures change. This money should be spent on EV infrastructure, public transport and cycling infrastructure.
There are some positive things in the Autumn statement for example some money for electric vehicles for example. But at a moment when we desperately need an overarching strategy to deal with air pollution and decarbonise transport there was no vision, far too little spending on the good things and far too much spending on the bad– but there is still time to turn things around. Soon after the autumn statement, the Business Minister Greg Clark announced that EVs are going to be at the heart of this government new industrial strategy; if this announcement is backed by spending and policies that support manufacturers then that’s real progress. As Ralph Speth chief executive of JLR said the UK faces strong competition from other countries in its drive to become a world leader in electric cars: “The German government wants to be ahead in this [electric technology]. We are in a race. Either we win or we lose.” We are hoping that the May government wins this one!
On the big issues of charging infrastructure, and road building Greenpeace recommends that the National Infrastructure Commission is mandated to look at a nationwide delivery plan for EV charging infrastructure assuming a 2030 date for EV only sales. This should report within 6 months with recommendations.
Spend on road building should be halted. We have to reevaluate as we shift to autonomous vehicles and the need to meet legal obligations on air pollution and CO2 emissions. We need to prioritise rolling out a 21st century transport system, not enlarging the one from the 20th century.