Empowering communities will be key to achieving Net Zero

A major independent review of the government’s Net Zero strategy has found that empowering communities and ‘catalysing local action’ will be vital if the changes we need, including transport decarbonisation, are to be achieved.

Community Rail Network fed into the new report, ‘Mission Zero’, which emphasises the importance of promoting public transport and active travel as attractive and accessible sustainable travel options, and the need for fully integrated multi-modal travel.

Transport features significantly, with many aspects relevant to community rail, including:

  • Sustainable travel and modal shift – the review states that getting more people using sustainable transport options, instead of private road vehicles, produces carbon savings, cuts congestion, and delivers benefits for health, air quality and local environments
  • Reducing private car use – the findings acknowledge that supporting people to reduce car use will require a combination of actions to ensure that more sustainable options are readily available, affordable and attractive, chiming with the government’s aim, in its Transport Decarbonisation Plan, of making public transport and active travel the ‘natural first choice for daily activities.’ It suggests the government develop a public engagement strategy to communicate to people the need to reduce car journeys and the benefits of doing this;
  • Modal integration – The review heard how allowing people to make sustainable, multi-modal end-to-end journeys was vital to increasing the accessibility and appeal of low-carbon travel;
  • Active travel – the review states that active travel is low-cost and can improve people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing and connections to their local area and high street, but suggests that a long-term approach is lacking. It recommends that the government commits to long-term funding for active travel, to ensure more people benefit;
  • Public transport – the review recommends the government amend the regulatory framework to incentivise transport providers to increase demand and improve services, and that it works with them on this vision, by 2024. As expense is seen as a major deterrent to modal shift, it recommends the government act to reduce public transport costs;
  • Rail decarbonisation – the review heard support for a continuous electrification programme, and support for the industry in developing a long-term strategy to ensure the best mix of electric, battery, hydrogen, bi and tri mode trains to fully decarbonise the network;
  • Community involvement – The review states that to deliver the change needed, the government must involve communities directly in local net zero action, and encourage them to lead their own net zero and climate projects, such as through tools to supplement local capability, and the promotion of locally-led approaches such as ‘20-minute neighbourhoods’.

Community rail is referenced in the review in relation to how the transport-related benefits of net zero can be maximised, especially highlighting the importance of effective integration and multi-modal travel in developing local transport solutions.

The review heard evidence from Community Rail Network on how community rail insights show how communities can be involved with sustainable transport development and progress towards net zero. We gave specific advice on the challenges of getting different modes of transport working together, and how communities can lead the way on creating more integrated low-carbon transport and achieving higher priority for intermodality in local transport planning.

A key element of the review is making net zero work for communities, and one of its key recommendations focuses on ‘catalysing local action’. There is recognition that the transition to net zero will need wholesale community action and involvement, with the growth benefits of net zero emphasised and made real for communities.

The review was chaired by former energy minister Chris Skidmore MP, and makes 129 recommendations urging the UK to take advantage of the ‘historic opportunity’ the pursuit of net zero offers. It follows the government’s Net Zero Strategy published in 2021 setting out a pathway to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Given changing global factors since then, such as the effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it commissioned the review to better understand the impact of the different ways to deliver its net zero pathway on the UK public and economy.

During the review, the chair consulted widely with a diverse range of stakeholders, including investors, industry, and experts in different fields, alongside a public call for evidence. Community Rail Network chief executive Jools Townsend, who sits on the DfT’s Net Zero Transport Board, gave evidence at a transport roundtable session, offering insights from the community rail movement as to how local transport networks are crucial to transport decarbonisation.

You can access the full report here.