Select Committee on Transport Seventh Report

6  The environment

Performance against climate change PSA target

57.  Under the Spending Review 2004, the Department shares responsibility for the climate change target with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The target is partly based on the Kyoto obligations (reducing emissions to 12.5% below 1990 levels between 2008-12) but also includes a stricter self-imposed target (20% over the same time frame). The slippage reported by the Department is against this stricter, self-imposed target.

58.  The Secretary of State indicated in 2006 that the Department was increasing its focus on environmental concerns.[49] It does not appear that the increased focus has had much material impact, since there is continued slippage against this target:[50] Annual CO2 emissions were reduced by only 5.3% on 1990 levels in 2006.[51] We note that another select committee has criticised the Department for relying on DEFRA and the then DTI to meet its joint PSA on climate change.[52]

59.  The transport sector has contributed little towards reducing UK CO2 emissions. Aside from residential emissions, transport and is the only sector of the economy where carbon emissions were higher in 2005 than in 1990, and where they are forecast to be higher in 2020 than in 1990.[53] Between 1990 and 2004, transport emissions increased by 10% overall. Emissions from road transport rose by 10%, while CO2 from international flights departing from the UK went up by 111%. Altogether (taking transport within the UK together with international air and shipping departures), transport accounted for 33% of UK carbon emissions in 2004, up from 27% in 1990.[54]

60.  According to the 2006 UK Climate Change Programme Review, over the period 1990-2010 the rise in road transport emissions from "Increased traffic growth due to GDP growth" will more than outweigh the entire suite of the Department's carbon reduction policies.[55]

61.  Reducing the carbon content of fuel is one of the supporting indicators for the Department's 2004 PSA target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Since the carbon content of petrol and diesel is unlikely to change significantly in the future, increasing uptake of biofuels (together with greater use of low-carbon electricity and hydrogen) will be play a significant part in meeting this target.[56]

62.  We are not convinced that biofuels will make sufficient impact on UK emissions within the time-frame envisaged by the Government. There are significant issues over the use of first-generation biofuels in transport, not least of which is the risk that they might cause as much carbon emission as conventional fuels, once all factors are taken into account. Other, significant risks relating to biofuels, in particular their impact on food prices, also need to be addressed before biofuels can be seen as a major element in efforts to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions. It may well be that second-generation biofuels, produced from the non-edible parts of food crops and non-food plants, can address some of these concerns, but it is still early days. It is a matter of concern that the Department currently has no plans to assess the risks of first-generation biofuels in the short term.

Climate change adaptation

63.  The severe flooding of July 2007 has proved expensive for some local authorities, such as Gloucestershire and North Yorkshire county councils, who have had to fund repairs to local roads. It is forecast that episodes of severe weather will become more frequent, with both flooding and extreme heat causing damage to transport infrastructure. Though the Department was able to point to some concrete examples of measures taken to mitigate the risk of climate change to the transport infrastructure, such as designing new Highways Agency roads with flooding in mind, there does not seem to be a coherent strategy for the Highways Agency and by and local authorities to tackle this issue.[57] We are concerned that the Department is not giving sufficient weight to the issue of climate change adaptation, both with regards to planning decisions and maintenance funding. Greater clarity and coordination is needed in this area.

Performance against the air quality PSA target

64.  The Department is still reporting slippage against its air quality targets. Four of the seven indicators underlying the air quality target were met in 2006-07. The exceptions were nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and particulates (PM10s). The slippages appear to be particularly concentrated in London. We acknowledge that this slippage must be kept in perspective. A failure to meet the standard at a small number of monitoring stations counts as a failure to meet the indicator as a whole, so that even where 90% of the country or more meets the standard, the indicator would show slippage. That said, the consequences of this failure are not insignificant. As we have noted before, it is estimated that respiratory disorders associated with PM10 episodes are responsible for 8,100 additional deaths and 10,500 additional hospital admissions in the UK each year.[58]

65.  The Air Quality Strategy (AQS) published in July 2007[59] sets new standards for ultra-fine particulates. Furthermore, we note that a new EU Directive on air quality is forthcoming, which will also include provisions regarding fine particulates. This is likely to increase the overall level of stringency in pollution control. However, following the CSR 2007 the Department will no longer have a PSA target for air quality, and there is clearly a risk that focus will be lost in this area at a time when priorities are shifting. We recommend that a target for the Department to improve air quality be reinstated.

Cycle lanes

66.  We note that the length of new cycle lanes and cycle tracks delivered by local authorities has declined significantly in 2006-07 compared to previous years. Given the need to encourage cycling, on various grounds, the slow-down is disappointing. We would welcome any information the Department can give us concerning their plans to enhance the provision for cyclists. We assume such plans are being made given the DfT's stated objective of being a 'green' department in the lead of the struggle against climate change.

49   Fourth Report from the Transport Committee, Session 2006-07, Department for Transport Annual Report 2006, HC 95, page 19 Back

50   The overriding reason for the discrepancy between trends in emissions of all greenhouse gases (GHGs) and those solely in CO2 is that carbon dioxide is most closely linked to economic activity, through consumption of fossil fuels (not least in transport, which is still overwhelmingly reliant on oil). GHGs which have been significantly reduced include methane from landfill sites; and 'exotic gases' used in industrial processes, which can be replaced by substitutes, used more efficiently, or simply used in lower quantities, partly as a result of the relocation of heavy industry. Back

51   Defra, UK Climate Change Programme: Annual Report to Parliament, p 15, p 21 Back

52   Environmental Audit Committee, Reducing Carbon Emissions from Transport, 2006 Back

53   In 'end user' terms. HM Government, Climate Change: The UK Programme 2006, March 2006, p 28 Back

54   Environmental Audit Committee press release, "Department for Transport needs to accelerate progress to avert climate change", 7 August 2006 Back

55   HM Government, Climate Change: The UK Programme 2006, March 2006, p 63 Back

56   DfT Departmental Annual Report, Cm 7095, p.264 Back

57   30 January 2008, Q138 Back

58   Great Britain Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants Great Britain (1998) "The quantification of the effects of air pollution on health in the United Kingdom". The Stationery Office. COMEAP is an Advisory Committee of the Department of Health.  Back

59   Cm 7169; available at Back

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