Rail to the rescue as European politicians backtrack on net-zero commitments

November 8, 2023

The UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has announced a postponement of the ban on new petrol and diesel cars by five years. This decision has sparked a debate about the net-zero pledges and its commitment to combating climate change.

But it is not a UK problem alone, and the signs of receding from the original commitments are visible across the region. French politicians are looking to prioritise ‘re-industrialisation’ and put a halt on green issues. Germany has its own energy crisis in the making, and the green party of the country is forced to look away owing to a depleting vote share. Even EU in itself, opened the door to internal combustion engines remaining on the market after 2035 – provided they can use synthetic fuels manufactured from hydrogen and carbon dioxide. All are but strong signals that we are off track with the net zero timelines.

In the United Kingdom alone, the transportation sector stands out as a significant contributor to total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, accounting for a staggering 34%. While the challenges of decarbonizing the entire transportation sector are considerable, there is hope on the horizon. Trains, often considered one of the most environmentally friendly forms of mass transport, play a crucial role in the UK’s mission to reduce emissions. 

The Green Advantage of Trains

Trains have long been recognized as a sustainable mode of transportation. Unlike cars and airplanes, trains offer a remarkably efficient way to move large numbers of people and goods while producing fewer carbon emissions. In fact, trains release only 0.046kg of CO2 per kilometre for each passenger. This impressive statistic highlights the efficiency and environmental friendliness of trains, making them a vital component of the UK’s efforts to reduce emissions in the transportation sector.

Challenges on the Road to 2050

The European countries have set ambitious targets to achieve a net zero-emission rail network by 2050. However, as with any large-scale initiative, there have been challenges and delays. Meeting these targets requires substantial investments, technical innovations, public preparedness, and collaborative efforts from government agencies, rail operators, and other stakeholders.

While the rail sector has demonstrated its commitment to sustainability, it is critical to acknowledge the hurdles that may impede progress. Delays in achieving net zero emissions in other forms of transport, such as road vehicles and aviation, can put additional pressure on the rail sector to accelerate its efforts. Consequently, it is crucial to maintain transparency and keep the public informed about the challenges and potential setbacks.

The Role of Public Relations in Achieving Sustainability Goals

Public relations (PR) has a role in shaping public perception and garnering support for sustainability initiatives, such as achieving a net zero-emission rail network. PR can help maintain a positive image for the rail sector, even in the face of delays and obstacles. Here are some common aspects of PR in this context:


Transportation accounts for a significant portion of the carbon emissions in Europe, but trains represent a beacon of hope in the journey toward sustainability.

While the UK’s commitment to achieving a net zero-emission rail network by 2050 faces challenges, public relations can play a vital role in keeping perceptions focused on the positive strides and engaging with all stakeholders. By effectively communicating the environmental benefits and progress in the rail sector, we can work together to ensure that the UK stays on track towards a greener, and a more sustainable future in transportation.

Click here to find out more information on BCM’s Transport PR Industry Experience.

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