The UK’s Transport decarbonisation plan

5 min read

9 August 2021

On 14th July 2021, the UK government published its plan for transport decarbonisation.  The plan sets out the Government’s priorities and actions to de-carbonise the UK’s entire transport system.  It includes the following headline announcements.

  • A commitment to phase out of all new petrol and diesel road vehicles, from motorbikes to HGVs, by 2040
  • A target to remove all diesel-only trains from the rail network by 2040
  • Reforms to the way local transport infrastructure is funded to drive decarbonisation at a local level
  • Investment to reduce the impact of aviation and shipping on the environment by 2050

We review what this means for the future of the transport in the UK.

The Transport Decarbonisation Plan showed the government’s intentions for decarbonising road, rail, shipping and aviation.  The plan announced many commitments, deliverables and consultations but did not go into details regarding the implementation. Here is a summary of the key policy areas.

Diesel & petrol cars

Having already announced the end of sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030, the government is now consulting on ending the sale of new non-zero emission HGVs by 2035, for vehicles 26 tonnes and under, and 2040, for vehicles over 26 tonnes.

At the same time, the government has published a Green Paper for a New Road Vehicle CO2 Emissions Regulatory Framework which includes proposals for the new ‘significant zero emission capability’ (SZEC) category of vehicles that all new cars and vans will be required to deliver between 2030 and 2035.

The paper also sets out options for meeting the new emissions regulations which include developing the fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions regulations already in place, or using ZEV sales targets alongside CO2 regulation.

However, as indicated in the Green Paper, some petrol hybrids may remain on sale after 2030.  The Office for Zero Emission Vehicle (OZEV) has previously explained that only plug-in and full hybrids will still be considered for sale from 2030 until 2035.  New hybrid cars and vans that could drive a “significant distance” with no carbon coming out of the tailpipe, however, would be allowed to remain on sale until 2035.


Sales of all new non-zero emission road vehicles will be phased out by 2040

  • All new cars and vans will be required to have significant zero emissions capability (SZEC) from 2030 and must be 100% zero emissions at the tailpipe from 2035.
  • Sales of all new medium sized trucks (up to  and including 26t) must be zero emission from 2035, with the heaviest (above 26t) zero emission by 2040, subject to consultation.
  • All new motorcycles and scooters will be fully zero emissions at the tailpipe from 2035, subject to consultation.
  • The Government is leading by example and will ensure one in four of the central government car fleet is ultra-low emission by 2022 and achieving a fully zero emission car and van fleet by 2027.  Furthermore, 90% of the National Health Service fleet must use low, ultra-low and zero emission vehicles by 2028.

Alongside these commitments, the Government published a delivery plan which summarises the policy, investment, infrastructure and supply chain deliverables required to transition to zero emission cars and vans by 2035.  


Rail Network

With partial electrification of the UK rail network already in place, the plan announced the future use of hydrogen and battery technology in trains, alongside electrification, to facilitate the decarbonisation of the rail network.  New policies will encourage more freight onto rail from roads.  The headline targets are:

  • Delivery of a UK net zero rail network by 2050
  • An ambition to remove all diesel-only trains (passenger and freight) from the rail network by 2040. 

Shipping and Maritime

Fewer concrete commitments on shipping and maritime were given, although several consultations were announced, including:

  • The potential for a planned phase out date for the sale of new non-zero emission domestic vessels.
  • A target for net zero in the UK domestic maritime sector to be achieved by 2050, subject to consultation.


Aviation is considered one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonise and while it contributes only 2-3% of global greenhouse gas emissions today, it is forecast to become the second highest residual emitter in 2050.  The plan refers to existing schemes to develop Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) for decarbonisation. 

Also mentioned in the plan is the draft strategy from the  Jet Zero government-industry partnership.  This sets out an approach to accelerate efficiency improvements of aircraft, airports and airspace in order to reach net zero.

With no committed dates for aviation in the report, there were announcements on consultations for UK domestic aviation to reach net zero by 2040 and for decarbonising emissions from airport operations in England by 2040.



Busses are seen as essential in the shift away from car usage.  However, only 2 per cent of England’s local operator bus fleet is zero emission today and the government is consulting on ending the sale of new non-zero emission busses and HGVs under 26 tonnes by 2035.

The government is also consulting on a phase out date for the sale of non-zero emissions coaches, as well as the target for buses which had already been announced.

The headline announcement was for government support for the delivery of 4,000 new zero emission buses and the infrastructure needed to support them.


If you are interested in collaborating with the UK low carbon transport ecosystem, then please contact us.



Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.