In our series of COP26 pieces, we explore what this momentous conference means for agriculture, food and farming.


Zero emission HGVs

As COP26 prepared to host Transport Day, the Government confirmed all new heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) weighing 26 tonnes and under must be zero emissions by 2035, with all HGVs zero emission by 2040.

The decarbonisation target for HGVs follows the 2030 end-date for the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans. Meaning all new road vehicles in the UK will be zero emission within the next two decades.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “From our roads to the skies, the transition to zero emission transport has reached a tipping point.

“We know that transport plays a key role saving the planet from warming above 1.5°C, which is why this is the COP that will kick start our ambition for zero emission aviation and why I’m proud to be uniting world leaders to tackle climate change – creating new opportunities for clean growth, green jobs and improved air quality right across the globe.

“To support the transition to EVs, it’s integral that we have the infrastructure to support it. My vision is for the UK to have one of the best EV infrastructure networks in the world, with excellent British design at its heart.”

When the Department for Transport launched its Freight Carbon Review in 2017, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) were estimated to account for around 17% of UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from road transport and around 21% of road transport NOₓ emissions, while making up just 5% of vehicle miles.

The ambition to reduce emissions from road freight is laudable and necessary, but there is much work to be done on how to overcome barriers to businesses adopting zero emission vehicles.

Funding, technological capabilities and infrastructure all need careful planning and development. Collaboration between government and business will be essential to eliminating emissions from the transportation of food and other goods.


Zero emission vehicles reach critical mass

The Government’s decision to ban the sale of new diesel HGVs is supported by new research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, commissioned by the UK COP Presidency, which shows 31% of the global passenger vehicle market is now covered by vehicle manufacturer commitments to end sales of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, up from a near zero share of the market at the start of 2021.

Global sales of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) have grown dramatically since 2019 from 2.1 million to 5.3 million, and ZEVs are forecast to be 70% of all new car sales in 2040, with this projection having doubled in the last 5 years.

The government stresses that the shift towards zero emission road vehicles has reached critical mass and is now set to accelerate rapidly.


Pledging to work towards zero emission transport

At the COP26 summit a group of ministers and industry leaders pledged to work towards 100% zero emission new car and van sales by 2040 or earlier on Transport Day.

Twenty-four countries, six major vehicle manufacturers (GM, Ford, Mercedes, BYD, Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover), 39 cities, states and regions, 28 fleets and 13 investors all jointly set out their commitment for all new car and van sales to be zero emission by 2040 globally and 2035 in leading markets.

In this group, companies like Sainsbury’s and Tesco and countries including New Zealand are making new commitments to 100% zero emission vehicles.

Earlier in the COP26 summit, Sainsbury’s along with Tesco, Waitrose, Co-op and M&S said they would reduce carbon emissions, deforestation and the food waste and packaging they produce. The chief executives of the supermarkets, which together serve more than half of UK food shoppers, said in a joint statement: “We recognise that a future without nature is a future without food. By 2030 we need to halt the loss of nature.”

A number of emerging markets and developing economies such as India, Ghana, Kenya – from which the UK imports foods and inputs – have committed to work to accelerate the adoption of zero emission vehicles in their countries.


Zero emission aviation and shipping

New initiatives are to be launched to tackle aviation and shipping emissions.

For example, 14 states from across the world, representing over 40 per cent of global aviation emissions will today pledge to work together to achieve an ambitious new aviation decarbonisation target through the International Civil Aviation Organization, as part of a new International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition.

In addition, 19 governments will also state their intent to support the establishment of ‘green shipping corridors’, which would operate zero-emission shipping routes between ports, providing a means to pilot zero-emission vessel technologies and alternative fuel and charging infrastructure at major ports.

Ambitions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in shipping and aviation will be a huge step forward for sustainability in the global supply chain. Food miles have long been a concern for many consumers. However, the ultimate goal for a sustainable food system would be for consumers to shop locally and seasonally.  


Public-private collaboration to accelerate the adoption of zero emission vehicles

The government’s pledge to phase out diesel HGVs provides clarity for businesses in the food supply chain, allowing them to effectively manage their fleets over the medium to long term.

The commitment to zero emission road freight still leaves questions unanswered: we do not have the technological solutions yet; how we will secure the necessary supply of clean fuels, how up-front costs for new vehicles will be funded; what will ongoing maintenance and repair cost?

The food and freight industries both work to notoriously tight margins so progress towards zero emission targets will need to be cost-effective and backed-up by a wider network of policies which support food security, margin shares & fair dealing within the food supply chain and back British business.


Related stories on zero emission vehicles

UK government confirms pledge for zero emission vehicles by 2040

COP26 Declaration on accelerating the transition to 100% zero emission cars and vans

Electric Vehicles in Food & Farming RED Talk

The Road to Decarbonising Commercial Transport

The True Cost of Electric Vehicle in Food and Farming