Free pass rescinded - Transport and Climate Change
Speech to the Highway Authorities and Utilities Committee, 19th May 2022
Thanks for the chance to make a contribution.
In the Welsh Government transport now sits in the broader Climate Change portfolio. Our First Minister has crafted one large Ministry that is bringing together the principal drivers of carbon emissions to give us the best chance of delivering on our legal commitment to reach NetZero by 2050.
Under the leadership of two Ministers for Climate Change Transport sits alongside planning, housing, energy, the environment, and regeneration to help us to align our policies.
It’s a big portfolio; meeting NetZero is an even bigger challenge.
Transport has until now been given a free pass when it comes to emissions reductions on the grounds that it is a key economic driver.
The UN Panel on Climate Change is pretty unequivocal in its analysis that if we don’t get emissions under control our economy faces catastrophic damage. Al Gore called it an ‘inconvenient truth’, and he wasn’t wrong.
We’ve now declared a Climate Emergency. Every country in the world has pledged to do it’s bit to hit the tougher target of NetZero emissions within the next 30 years. It is the only way to avoid temperature rises that will destroy the ability of our eco-systems to support our society. Inconvenient, but the truth.
Since 1990, the base year, we’ve managed to cut our carbon emissions from waste by 64%, industry and business have brought down their emissions by 36%, the same in the energy sector; from buildings we’ve reduced emissions by a quarter, even in agriculture we’ve cut emissions by 10%. But transport has decreased the least – just 6% since 1990.
If we repeat that over the next 30 years we will fail. 17% of our carbon emissions in this country come from transport, and transport must play its part in getting us onto a low carbon trajectory.
I am under no illusions about how difficult this is to do. But I am also certain that it is do-able. And we must all confront the consequences of our failing to do this.
Like the UK Government, the Welsh Government gets independent advice from the UK Committee on Climate Change on how to put ourselves on a ‘balanced pathway’ to NetZero by 2050.
They tell us that in the next 10 years we have to make deeper cuts in carbon emissions that we have managed over the course of the last 30 years - Faster progress in the next decade than the whole of the last three decades.
That is going to be very tough.
The good news is, it is do-able. And the UK Committee on Climate Change have set out a way it can be done.
If there’s only one thing you take from this speech please let it be this: we cannot rely on electric vehicles alone to achieve NetZero.
Decarbonising our fleet of car is necessary to hit our targets. But it is not sufficient.
The UK Committee on Climate Change say that in addition to switching to all electric vehicles, we also need to reduce the miles we travel and the number of journeys we make.
We need modal shift.
And that means re-thinking the approach to transport that has guided us over the last 70 years.
In Wales we are starting to confront what that means.
A year ago we published a transport strategy that for the first time puts modal shift at the heart of our policy.
We’ve set a target of 45% of trips made by sustainable modes by 2040 – that compares to 32% now.
And we’ve committed to a 10% reduction in car mileage.
We’ve said we don’t want people returning to the morning commute after Covid, we want to maintain 30% of people workingremotely on an ongoing basis.
We are in the middle of developing one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in Wales in modern times in the form of the south Wales Metro – a circa £1 Billion programme to create a turn-up-and-go public transport system.
We’ve just published the most far reaching bus reform programme in the UK. Our ambition is captured in the title of our White Paper: ‘One Network, One Timetable, One Ticket’
We are investing record sums in active travel and have the world’s first piece of legislation requiring Highway Authorities to plan and develop a network of routes for walking and cycling – the Active Travel Act.
And we’re empowering Councils to crack-down on pavement parking.
This all requires a shift in funding to sustainable transport and we have frozen all new road development and have set up a Roads Review Panel to examine each one - 55 schemes – to test whether they are consistent with our new transport strategy.
We’re not saying we won’t build any more roads but we are saying they cannot be the default answer to transport problems.
I’ve asked the Roads Review Panel to come up with criteria for when new roads can be justified. And I want them to identify savings that will allow us to improve sustainable transport, as well as to better maintain the roads we have – and to reallocate roadspace as we go.
None of this is easy. I am prepared to be unpopular because, frankly, the science terrifies me. And I want to look my grandchildren in the eye and tell them I tried my best to take action when presented with the evidence.
This is the biggest challenge of our generation. Each of us faces a choice to be part of the solution, or part of the problem.
If we get this right the changes we make will bring benefits to our communities. Investment in sustainable transport infrastructure will create jobs; improvements in buses will help tackle poverty; mainstreaming active travel will clean our air, improve health and raise the quality of life.
I understand the three core themes of your convention are “Collaboration, Connectivity and Climate”. Let us work together to devise solutions to the profound challenges we face. We can connect people in a way that improves communities and tackles the climate challenge. To do that we must collaborate. The members of the Highway Authorities and Utilities Committee are part of the solution – we cannot do it without your help, your skill and your commitment.