Faced with the global challenge of climate change - and as part of our wider commitment to sustainable development - it is clear that building a cleaner, greener future for Britain means building a low carbon future. Consequently, all of us, whatever our role in the transport sector, have a duty to champion low carbon technology and behaviour as part of our wider responsibility to help this country meet its ambitious, but essential, climate change obligations.
We need to make low carbon travel a genuine, viable and attractive option for businesses and ordinary citizens. To be clear, this does not mean government dictating which particular mode of travel people should use. Instead, what I want is to widen the options so that it is easier and a natural part of life for people - and businesses - to go for the low carbon travel choice.
This is the principle that underpins "Low Carbon Transport: A Greener Future", the strategy document launched by my Department in July 2009. In the strategy, we grasp the scale of the challenge for our sector, and set a course towards a low carbon transport system of the future. We set out the actions we are taking to deliver cuts in emissions in line with meeting our obligations under carbon budgets to 2022. And we outline how we are putting the building blocks in place for longer-term change for the period to 2050.
We have been investing in our railways and our buses as a crucial means of improving public transport and thereby enabling passengers to make 'smarter choices'. In the same vein, we have also been supporting people to walk and cycle. We have strengthened our position in recent months, including running a sustainable travel city competition and increasing funding for rail/cycle integration.
At the same time, there is a crucial role in the strategy for decarbonising transport through technology development. Within each mode, we need to move as fast as is economically, socially and technologically viable to lower carbon options. For road vehicles this means government intervention on a number of fronts, from developing new vehicle standards through the EU, to supporting R&D; and helping UK industry maximise the opportunities from a shift to lower carbon technology.
In addition, we need to secure the significant improvements that are still to be had from improving the efficiency of the internal combustion engine, while also unlocking the market for the new cleaner electric and hybrid technologies that are also emerging fast.
The Government is already taking these important steps. For example, in June, we announced the winners of the Technology Strategy Board's Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator competition. Thanks to this competition some 340 ultra low carbon vehicles will begin trials on UK roads within the next six to eighteen months - something that will be a crucial part of manufacturers' research on consumer behaviour alongside their R&D; on the technology itself.
The Government has also pledged more than £200 million for consumer incentives, worth between £2,000 and £5,000 for private individuals and commercial buyers - looking to buy electric or plug-in hybrid cars when a range of cars are available in the UK, which we expect to be from 2011, at the latest.
A key element in our strategy to decarbonise cars and vans is to enable motorists to make a more informed decision as to the carbon impact of the vehicles they buy. It is for this reason that we are extending the new car fuel economy label to used cars and have also set up an online database of new van CO2 emissions on the Business Link website.
The purchasing power of the public sector can also help in demonstrating the potential of new technology for decarbonising road transport. The Government has, therefore, announced that, as part of a £20 million scheme, four British companies will begin supplying low carbon and all-electric vans to selected public sector organisations within months.
They will initially supply the first 100-150 vans for use by six local authority groups, including Liverpool City Council and Glasgow City Council, as well as six large public fleets, including Royal Mail and the Metropolitan Police.
Programme funds will help the public sector organisations meet the additional costs of buying or operating low carbon and all-electric vans. The low carbon vans supplied must demonstrate a 10 per cent reduction in CO2 and all-electric vans must have a driving range of at least 100 miles in order to meet the strict criteria of the scheme. The vans will also be tested for reliability and performance to provide valuable data to help the technologies develop further.
Bearing in mind that vans are responsible for some 11 per cent of the domestic transport sector's greenhouse gas emissions, this scheme is good for the environment. And by offering vital support to promising British companies entering the green technology sector, this scheme makes sound economic sense too.
We are determined to build a low carbon future for Britain's transport. The best way to achieve our goals is to provide people with genuine travel alternatives. In short, it's about being an enabling government offering transport choice.
For further information, please see www.dft.gov.uk