Net Zero Targets and Decarbonising Transport — [Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:27 am on 4th February 2020.

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Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 10:27 am, 4th February 2020

The hon. Lady makes a good point. It is a very short-term approach to look at such things in terms of their initial cost. They have to be considered in the medium and long term, particularly in the light of the climate emergency that the Government have announced. Cutting back on such schemes is disgraceful.

Work continues in Scotland, in planning future works. Those include the new metro running through my constituency, which will give Renfrew—currently the largest town in Scotland without a rail station—its first fixed rail link in more than 50 years; and the future decarbonisation of the Barrhead and East Kilbride lines. Scotland aims to make sure that all rail journeys are carbon free by 2035. Perhaps that is the sort of ambition that England and Wales need from their rail policy makers, who have wasted tens of millions of pounds on cancelled rail electrification schemes. That is entirely the wrong signal to send at this time to the public and the rest of the world.

The Scottish Government are doing what they can under current financial and constitutional constraints, but hon. Members who have had the pleasure of hearing me speak on this topic will not be surprised if I bring up Norway at this point. The right hon. Member for East Hampshire has already alluded to results there in response to an intervention by my hon. Friend Alan Brown. Norway’s population is less than one tenth of the UK’s, and it is a country with a great many similarities to Scotland. Its electric car sales outstrip the UK’s, with an almost exponential growth rate. Last year alone, electric car sales increased by 31%, while the figure for petrol cars dropped by the same rate and that for diesel cars fell 13%. The car industry in Norway predicts an even greater demand for electric vehicles this year. By the end of this year there is every chance that half of all new cars sold in Norway will be electric. In the UK, the figure stands at 2.1%, while fossil-fuel cars continue to increase in number.

The difference is that Norway has a Government who are taking concrete action to push electric vehicles, and who are investing in the infrastructure needed, with nearly as many charging points as the entire UK. An independent, northern European, energy-rich country with full access to the single market and the European economic area is leading the way on the sort of bold transport policies that others can only follow, which are possible only with the full powers of a sovereign, independent Parliament and Government. Norway now, and Scotland in the future: one has only to look at the polls over the past week or so to see that the writing is on the wall for Scotland’s continued membership of the United Kingdom. However, I digress, and time is slightly against me.

Norway and Scotland show that leaving decarbonisation to the free market simply does not work. It needs strong policy and intervention from the Government, investment at a local and national level, and the commitment to match. I said before that the Scottish Government do an outstanding job, despite operating with one hand tied behind their back. Indeed, Scotland has shown global leadership by being the first country to include international aviation and shipping emissions in its statutory climate targets. Given its nature, aviation is the toughest of transport modes to decarbonise, but I welcome today’s news that the UK aviation industry has vowed to decarbonise by 2050. The Scottish Government are working with Highlands and Islands Airports and the aviation industry to bring to Scotland trials of cutting-edge zero-emission aircraft, using battery and hydrogen fuel-cell technologies, starting in the Orkney archipelago, where no flight lasts longer than 20 minutes. Indeed, it boasts the world’s shortest scheduled flight, from Westray to Papa Westray, which is shorter in distance than most airport runways, and lasts a minute or so. The Scottish National party will decarbonise flights within Scotland by 2040, and is aiming for the world’s first zero-emission aviation region, in partnership with HIAL.

Meanwhile, the UK Government’s track record is disappointing, to say the least—just ask the former president of COP26, Claire O’Neill, for her take. The feed-in tariff has been scrapped, and Scotland’s renewables have been subjected not just to discriminatory but to utterly shameful transmission charges. Both are key inputs to a decarbonised transport system. The tax and licencing regime delivers little benefit to those switching to electric vehicles, who play their part in driving the change that is needed. It is surely time for the Government to look to our European colleagues for inspiration and ideas. Perhaps that approach is not in vogue down here at the moment—it is certainly not within the present Government—but it would assist massively in delivering the transformational change needed across our network. If the Government are not prepared to do that, they should make sure that Scotland’s Parliament and Government have the powers and the finance needed to do the job properly.