Decarbonising the UK's Freight Transport

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Bartlett Sch of Env, Energy & Resources


Like energy and automotive before it, UK freight transport is now on the cusp of a socio-technical transition away from fossil fuel dependency. This transition will require major investment to fleet and infrastructure, cause disruption to assets and business models, and will trigger significant reconfiguration. Whilst the scaling up of fossil phase-out is most likely to occur from the 2030s onwards, the next 10 years of investments are critical to enabling the transition, and to mitigating transition risks to the "hard to abate" freight sectors, and by association UK trade.

Our concept to address this challenge is for a Network of broad but interconnected academic excellence integrated with key and leading stakeholders in freight decarbonisation, that collaboratively develops and applies knowledge and understanding of rapid freight decarbonisation. We will use this Network to collect and distil current knowledge, as well as to identify and de-risk the key remaining research challenges that can unleash significant freight-decarbonisation targeted investment and guide enabling policy.

This Network connects five freight transport investments made by the EPSRC with a track record of a whole systems approach to decarbonisation of UK freight flows (international and national), and of closely integrating and embedding research with industry and policy makers alike.

The Network's efforts will be guided by a number of features of UK freight transport including: (i) significant fixed infrastructure with long timescales for investment (ii) lack of consensus on the specific technological solutions for each mode (iii) a complex combination of national and international transport systems (iv) besides the road and rail network, a limited scope for public sector investment (v) Complex governance involving a mix of UK, EU and international (UN) regulation.

The Network will align and integrate directly with UK government and existing initiatives including (i) Industrial strategy (ii) Clean Growth Strategy (iii) Road to zero (iv) Clean Maritime Council (v) UN agency fora (vi) World Bank's Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (vii) ongoing work on aligning investment to decarbonisation with: European Investment Bank, UK private sector institutions, IFC and IMF, and leading investment NGOs: 2 degrees investing, World Economic Forum, Global Maritime Forum, Global Shippers Forum, UK FTA.

To achieve this Network's objective of unleashing significant investment for freight decarbonisation, it is organised into five multi-modal and cross-cutting thematic areas and executed through a three-step approach:
Theme 1: Role of data and models for unlocking implementation decision making
Theme 2: Managing macroeconomic, policy and technology uncertainty, whilst mitigating climate risk in investment decisions
Theme 3: Fuel and propulsion technology pathways
Theme 4: Aligning drivers for decarbonisation investment/policy with local (inc. air pollution), UK, EU and Global climate policy and integrating into private sector decision making
Theme 5. Coupling the evolution of logistics with decarbonizing freight

Step 1: Refinement of current knowledge and perspectives into a focused set of research questions covering each of the five themes
Step 2: Commissioning of a series (~13) small projects which can develop further understanding of these questions and the methods suitable for addressing them
Step 3: Distillation of the Network's knowledge, in combination with the outputs of the small projects, to produce a strategy to drive freight decarbonisation investment, and an agenda and plan describing a series of further collaboration and funding activity that can sustain the Network

Planned Impact

This Network connects five earlier EPSRC funded projects on the decarbonisation of freight transport (CSRF/SCC/LCS/HS/GL) with an excellent track record of impact on high-level UK, EU and global decarbonisation policy. These projects have also set the agenda in private sector forums on decarbonisation within their respective sectors (sea and road freight) including through engaging with influential associations e.g. Freight Transport Association (FTA) and Global Maritime Forum (GMF). This Network's plans to create impact are built on these excellent foundations, trust and credibility, and will leverage the broad reach of its existing networks across both UK, EU and global stakeholders.

Since the five earlier projects, the impact landscape has progressed and there are now an increasing number of relevant UK government initiatives and private-sector activities that align investment to decarbonisation. Our impact plans therefore start with a close integration into this landscape, including integration and alignment to (i) UK Industrial strategy (ii) Clean Growth Strategy (iii) Road to zero (iv) Clean Maritime Council (v) UN agency fora, including IMO, its member governments and NGOs (vi) World Bank's Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (vii) ongoing work with: European Investment Bank, UK private sector institutions, IFC and IMF, and leading investment NGOs: 2 degrees investing, World Economic Forum, Global Maritime Forum, Global Shippers Forum, UK FTA.

Additional efforts enabled through this network include:
- The Network's Management Board and associated co-working creating an efficient integration between academia and stakeholders across multiple freight transport modes. The direct engagement of stakeholder partners into themes and the management board, to ensures buy-in to the Network's outputs, and a pathway to impact.
- A wider stakeholder "club", convened at a series of regular meetings, cross-cutting workshops and events, and following threads of activity across the themes. Our experience shows that this engagement in combination with targeted emails (e.g. on studies) to the network can have some of the highest impact, and we'll use the communication budget to enable this targeted communication with stakeholders.
- Integration of the Network's activities with undergraduate and postgraduate cohorts, to collect broad reactions and views and provide internship opportunities within the Network's partners
- Targeted work with mainstream media outlets, leveraging track record of Network members (Nat Geo, C4, BBC, FT etc) to bring broader and public engagement on the freight decarbonisation topic
- Placement/exchange - building on existing programme, esp. associated with government, e.g Department for Transport
- A focus on SME partners: since many of the technology breakthroughs and pilots are occurring in this portion of the private sector (e.g. Norsepower, ITM), we will host a series of workshops focused on ensuring a platform for these companies to share their thoughts and concerns
- A workshop dedicated to education and training requirements for both academic and non-academic insititutions, that can ensure plans and investments will not be restricted by a shortage of skills
- social media strategy - instead of a consortium website, we will resource active participation through the Network's branding, across linkedin, twitter and other social media where the business community is increasingly debating strategy for new and emerging technology.



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