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Thank you for travelling by train to COP26

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Copper’s Managing Partner, Martin McCrink reflects on COP and one of the messages delivered to people in Glasgow: thank you for travelling by train

I’m on my way back from Glasgow following the recording of a podcast for the Major Projects Association. It’s great to have the opportunity to talk about how bringing the public with us is key to achieving net zero. I’m eager to hear the final version and recap everyone’s insights around the table.

But I’m going to focus on a different problem for a moment. The message ‘thank you for travelling by train’ was loud and clear in Glasgow. And many people from around the world have righty been sharing their experiences of getting to Glasgow.

It’s around £45 to fly from Bristol to Glasgow and costs about 4 to 5 times that to get the train. Flying is clearly faster, accepting it takes more time to check-in and find your way to your destination once you land.

Flying is cheaper and more convenient. The train has its obvious benefits – starting and ending in a city centre, and working is easier, albeit with iffy Wi-Fi and phone signal.

But trains, by comparison to planes, are slow and expensive in the UK. It takes the best part of a day to travel the length of the UK, which shows just how far we have to go. We need to change this to reach net zero; investment is critical.

Investment in high-speed rail, low carbon aviation and better ways of travelling by car are going to need to speed up if we are to hit our net zero targets. The driver behind this is public behaviour. It is a big ask for people to cut emissions without providing them with the tools to enable change. Generally speaking, most people will struggle to consistently choose the most expensive, least convenient option.

And I’m not having a moan about aviation. Quite the opposite. Investment in synthetic aviation fuel, hydrogen and other ways to decarbonise flying are critically important and there is always going to be a transition.

Electric cars and heat pumps face the same challenge. Costs and convenience are realities that people need to grapple with.

Our recent research shows that people are willing to make trade-offs… but only really on ‘how’ they do things, not ‘what’ they do.

So what’s needed?

The Government has proven that where there are scalable opportunities and it can invest to make the changes we need. The private sector has shown the same. The opportunity to increase mass adoption brings down costs.

Offshore wind is a more long-standing example, but a more recent one is the news about Rolls-Royce’s Small Modular Reactor (SMR) programme. Rolls-Royce SMR hits some of the most important buttons for the electorate; levelling up, jobs, low carbon energy, export opportunities for the UK and investment in British technology.

But, we can’t just leave this to governments. At the same time, we also can’t expect the public to change their lifelong habits and routines. Collaboration is hackneyed in our industry, but working together is key. We can and should expect more from industry to enable us all to make change happen. We should expect more from each other, more from COP and more from both those we elect and the companies we buy from.

The role that customer demand can play over in the race towards net zero is critical. The more low carbon choices and compromises we demand and support, the quicker change will happen.

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