Policy statement

Freight: Keeping Britain Moving

Our policy statement looks at what the freight sector can do to play its part in helping to achieve the government’s ambitious carbon reduction targets.

Freight is a significant contributor to the economy, accounting for £74.5 billion annually and employing 2.3 million people. However, freight also accounts for about 35 million tonnes of CO2 every year.

The efficient movement of goods keeps our industries running, our stores stocked and our businesses profitable. However, congestion is leading to significant waste through delays and increased carbon emissions. An integrated approach to freight, which utilises the most efficient transport mode, can help solve this conundrum.

Road freight is by far the dominant mode of transport for domestic freight. Shifting road freight to other modes where possible would reduce freight emissions and congestion.

Rail freight’s market share is predicted to rise 8% by 2030. Such a shift would require an increase in rail freight capacity of 13.04 billion tonne kilometres, which the present system cannot accommodate. Substantial investment will be required to meet this in addition to the planned investment for high-speed rail.

UK ports handle 95% of our imports and exports by tonnage. However, only 30% of domestic freight is then shipped onwards by sea. With 120 UK commercial ports there is scope for emissions reduction through modal shift from road to sea.

Airfreight contributes £5 billion to GDP a year and is expected to grow over the next 30 years. Despite this, domestic airfreight contributes just 0.1% of the UK’s freight transport emissions, small enough to discount its emissions impact. International airfreight contributes 6% of freight emissions, but there is currently no viable alternative.

Transportation by pipeline has the least carbon impact of all modes at 10gmCO2/tonne-km, but with high volumes this accounts for 0.3% of total freight emissions. However, there is no predicted growth for this mode up to 2015.

Key recommendations

  1. The freight sector has the potential to make a substantial contribution to the reduction of emissions from transport both directly and indirectly.
  2. Less polluting freight modes are currently underutilised. Sea and rail-freight are less polluting than road freight – by far the biggest polluter, which continues to contribute over 90% of the sector’s emissions.
  3. Government should pursue a more holistic approach to the movement of goods, which considers the best emissions outcome for journeys by creating a hub and spoke network using all modes and fully utilises the most emissions efficient means. Much of such a network is already in place and the planned increases in rail capacity will help further.
  4. Past infrastructure investment in roads, rail and ports has been fragmented with no clear aim. Further development decisions should be as integrated as possible.


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