While some near-term interventions on logistics are under the control of individual retailers, many rely on governmental support. The retail industry requires government support to meet its net zero target in three areas:
1. Further measures to enable near-term HGV emissions reductions
More needs to be done to improve the greenhouse gas performance of existing HGV operations. As an example, the 2019 Foresight report highlights that: “...there has been no equivalent increase in the adoption of measures to reduce rolling resistance (by switching to low resistance tyres) and light-weighting (by using novel materials) as these face some cost barriers.” The same report shows there is ‘money on the table’ in terms of payback periods for large numbers of efficiency improvements, but help is needed to convert these possibilities into realities, as rapidly as possible.
2. Setting a clear direction to accelerate deployment of zero carbon HGVs for UK market, including significant research and development investment
“While the pathways to more energy-efficient road freight movement are now quite clearly defined, the switch from fossil to low-carbon fuel is less certain and more controversial, with biofuels, hydrogen, batteries and highway electrification vying for political and industrial support.”
Retailers are facing high levels of uncertainty over where to commit time and other resources for long-term decarbonisation. Government leadership and direction for future logistics solutions will allow the industry to more confidently direct its investment strategies. Since the Government has maintained a technology-neutral position with regards to reaching zero carbon HGV logistics, the retail industry has had to take a piecemeal approach to reducing road freight emissions. More clarity would benefit both parties. Funding for pilot projects, support for research and development (including around enabling infrastructure and energy sources such as green hydrogen) and clear prioritisation of decarbonisation pathways for the private sector would strengthen the retail industry’s ability to respond in time to meet targets.
3. Support for more rapid uptake of the electrification of LCVs, including for the charging infrastructure
The Government’s 20% (or £20,000 maximum) grant for large vans and trucks is welcomed, but further support is needed to stimulate the adoption of electric light commercial vehicles. Even with subsidy programmes, companies have been hesitant to invest in electric delivery vehicles.
The current challenges cited as barriers to adoption of electric LCVs include limited availability of vehicle models, anxiety about vehicle range and uncertainty on the development of charging infrastructure. Partnership between government and the retail sector will be key to overcoming these barriers and achieving the ambitious short- and long-term targets for EVs. Given the Government’s commitment to virtually phase out purchases of new fossil fuel powered vehicles by 2040, the significant fleets of LCVs in retail (including couriers) represent a key stakeholder group to spearhead this transition.
 Decarbonizing Logistics: Distributing Goods in a Low Carbon World (2018). Alan McKinnon. Kogan Page, London.