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Adapting networks and infrastructure to the changing patterns of travel means looking beyond simply the modes of transport people choose to use.

It also involves analysing the wider socio-economic situations at the time, and how demand is shaping the way people commute in future.

Climate change has become a major influencer on strategic thinking and the need to deliver projects that work towards cutting carbon emissions.

Transport for the North is working with Local Transport Authorities and The Department for Transport to develop a Northern Transport Decarbonisation Strategy.

One of TfN’s key undertakings was to provide input into the development of the national Transport Decarbonisation Plan on behalf of our Partners. This was submitted in August 2020 and can be found on the link below.

A robust and considered out approach to decarbonisation across our programmes will be crucial in reforming and enhancing connectivity across the region.

Earth from space lights on Earth at night

What is Climate Change and why is it important?

To understand the reasons for cutting carbon emissions, it’s important to understand the dangers of climate change.

The issue starts with the burning of fossil fuels, which causes carbon dioxide and other Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) to be released into the air. These act as a warming layer around the earth that trap the sun’s heat in our atmosphere and stop it escaping into space.

Since the industrial revolution, the levels of GHGs released into the air as a result of human activity have increased, leading to a corresponding warming effect on the planet.
Changes to global climate are already happening and are visible through the increased prevalence of heatwaves, floods, droughts and fires.

Other impacts include damage to marine ecosystems leading to fisheries failing, sea level rise, increased risk to water supplies and a rise in global food insecurity as well as an unprecedented loss of biodiversity.

What is ‘Decarbonisation’?

Decarbonisation describes the process of reducing, and ultimately removing, the GHG emissions produced as a by-product of the functioning of an economy. It applies to all sectors within an economy, such as power generation, industry, residential and non-residential development, land use and agriculture, and transport.

It includes emissions generated over the lifetime of development, including through their construction, operation and also through their decommissioning, demolition or deconstruction.
It also includes emissions generated by the energy consumed to acquire, process, and transport the raw materials needed to produce the goods we build with, and that we use day to day in both our home and work lives.

Cows in a field, felling of trees, traffic pollution, power station producing gasses

What are the targets around Decarbonisation?

The Climate Change Act (2019) commits the UK government by law to reducing GHG emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels by 2050.

This represents the UK ‘s Nationally Defined Contribution (NDC) to ‘The Paris Agreement’ which was adopted in December 2015 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change.

The Paris Agreement aims to limit global average temperature increase to 2o°c above pre-industrial levels while also pursuing efforts to limit the rise to 1.5o°c.

Many of TfN’s partner organisations have declared Climate Emergencies and have set ambitious decarbonisation targets to reach close to ‘net zero’ within their spatial areas of responsibility and taking into account all or most sectoral contributions.

Within its Strategic Transport Plan (STP), TfN itself committed to the development of a Decarbonisation Pathway to 2050.

What is Net Zero?

Net Zero is a term used to describe an end state where we reduce GHG emissions as much as possible, but still have a small amount that are unavoidable (e.g. from some areas of food production).

These residual emissions must then be ‘soaked up’ to achieve a balance where we are sequestering an equal (or greater) amount of GHGs than we are emitting. Methods to ‘soak up’ or sequester these residual GHG emissions include Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), tree planting, and soil carbon enhancement.

If the UK is to be in line with the ambitions of the Paris Agreement and the UK’s 2050 Net Zero target, it is highly likely that the transport sector, excluding aviation and shipping, will need to be completely decarbonised prior to 2050 (i.e. an ‘absolute-zero’ target).

What role is Transport for the North taking?

TfN is developing its decarbonisation pathway and agreeing a target greenhouse gas emissions trajectory with its Partners.

This will be bought together within TfN’s Decarbonisation Strategy which we hope to publish in Spring 2021.

The scope of our strategy will mirror TfN’s own area of operations in terms of sector (i.e. transport) and spatial extent. The targets will need to be inclusive of all Partners and consider the particular challenges and opportunities that each face.

TfN is also working, alongside delivery partners, to reduce the carbon footprint of its own projects and programmes, throughout their design, construction and operation.

The organisation is also an advisory board member of DecarboN8, a research council funded network that brings together academic expertise from the eight most research intensive universities in the North. Together with the public and private sector, DecarboN8 builds an effective and integrated environment for developing and applying solutions to decarbonise transport across the North.

What next?

We’re currently compiling our own greenhouse gas inventory which will help us understand what our starting point is within in the North in terms of greenhouse gas emissions from road and rail. We will then work to agree a target trajectory for transport decarbonisation in the North with our Partners, which when combined with our future travel scenarios and will allow us to develop a decarbonisation pathway and accompanying policy frameweork. Our intention is to report and consult upon this work through the Decarbonisation Strategy, in Spring 2021. Read more in our business plan.

Business Plan 2020/21