For months, ministers have made ever bolder pledges about cutting carbon emissions across the economy as they race to meet the legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050.
Finally they are having to get down to the details of how they will do so, with a wide-ranging “greenprint” for the transport sector, set to be revealed today.
In a preview published on Tuesday night, they insisted the proposals in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP) are not about stopping people doing things, but will nonetheless require huge changes to people’s behaviour.
Although there was no mention yesterday, of how the plans will be paid for, there is understood to be a lively debate on the topic in Government.
There are more than 400,000 licensed EVs and hybrids in the UK
Senior Government figures suggested that one answer being actively considered is the introduction of a network of new toll charges in roads across the country, helping make up for fuel duty that will be lost as drivers shift to electric cars.
Dubbed a “greenprint” to decarbonise the UK’s seas and skies, roads and railways, the proposals were still being finalised in the early hours of this morning.
They are likely to spark anger on the Conservative back benches – and indeed lead to raised eyebrows in some Whitehall departments.
A ban on diesel lorries, a headline grabber given the lack of zero-emission models on the market, is only one of a raft of reforms.
Electric charging stations will be required to soothe “range fear” and thousands of buses will be replaced.
The railways, where Britain has lagged its European cousins for years on green credentials, are set for a sweeping overhaul.
Last night’s preview also suggested the end of new petrol and diesel car engine sales could start earlier than the current 2030 ban on sales of new models, with the Government pledging to consult on a phased mandate.
“It’s not about stopping people doing things: it’s about doing the same things differently,” said the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps.
“We will still fly on holiday, but in more efficient aircraft, using sustainable fuel. We will still drive, but increasingly in zero-emission cars.”
He insisted the plans will “ultimately create sustainable economic growth through healthier communities as we build back greener.”
Diesel trucks’ days have been numbered for some time amid the push to decarbonise, and the TDP finally reveals exactly when the end will come.
New diesel trucks will be banned in the UK from 2035 and 2040 – the smaller ones first, followed by those weighing more than 26 tonnes.
Heavy-goods vehicles account for about 17pc of emissions from transport according to Government figures, compared with more than 55pc from cars. Many in industry yesterday cautiously welcomed the clarity provided by the cut-off date but the path ahead is not easy or clear.
The weight of trucks and the huge distances they have to travel makes banishing efficient diesel a daunting task.
Despite EV gains, petrol and diesel cars still dominate
Most truck manufacturers have prototype electric or hydrogen powered vehicles in development, potentially just a few years away from being on the roads.
But how well they will actually work and whether the charging points, hydrogen stations and fuel cells needed to power those vehicles will be ready is uncertain.
Trucks are often run for a dozen hours a day compared with passenger cars, which are idle 90pc of the time.
“The announcement of proposed phase out dates for new diesel HGVs will be welcomed by the logistics sector, which has been waiting for further clarity from government and is keen to start preparing for decarbonisation,” says Alex Veitch, general manager at Logistics UK.
“However these suggested dates will only be attainable if there are sufficient, cost effective vehicles and a robust, nationwide charging or refuelling network available for operators to use from day one.”
Trains – a decade behind schedule?
Ministers rubber-stamped proposals designed to ensure the railways are net carbon neutral by 2050. Diesel locomotives will be phased out from 2040.
The lofty ambitions were treated with scepticism by some. Graeme Cooper at National Grid says: “We need a strategy on how to decarbonise harder to reach parts of the rail network – this will allow energy networks to align their plans to support in a timely manner.”
The UK lags woefully behind on rail electrification
But the plans are already 10 years behind schedule, according to one of the world’s biggest train makers.
Siemens Mobility, which the Prime Minister hailed last year as work began on a new train manufacturing plant in Yorkshire, has calculated that electrifying the rail network will take until 2060 to complete.
The UK’s railways are well behind their counterparts on the European Continent in terms of electrification. Three in five services in Britain are still powered by diesel locomotives, compared with roughly two in five in the EU.
Rail bosses’ proposals, leaked to The Telegraph a year ago, urged Shapps to take action immediately or risk missing Johnson’s 2050 net zero pledge.
The awkwardly named “Traction Decarbonisation” review estimated that it would cost taxpayers £30bn to make the railways greener. Industry sources said that the review has been stuck in the Treasury in-tray since, with officials seemingly unwilling to sign-off such an outlay at a time when there is significant uncertainty over future demand for rail travel.
Siemens, recently snubbed in a £2.8bn tender to build HS2 trains, estimates more than 300 miles of track needs to be electrified each year and ministers should set aside money to introduce hydrogen and battery-powered alternatives – as is already happening across the English Channel.
Meanwhile, the airline industry is to be pushed to cut emissions from domestic aviation and airport operations to net zero by 2040 – ahead of the legally binding target for the whole country.
Emma Gilthorpe, chief operating officer at Heathrow, said: “We look forward to working with Government to translate this ambition to action and deliver a future where people can continue to enjoy the benefits of air travel – without worrying about their impact on the environment.”