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Infrastructure blog

IPW: weak transport emissions targets, US Infrastructure Bill and new funding model for nuclear

17 November 2021

In this fortnightly blog, ICE's Director of Policy Chris Richards looks at developing policy landscape for infrastructure, what decisions mean, and their implications, so that infrastructure professionals can play their part in shaping the discussion.

IPW: weak transport emissions targets, US Infrastructure Bill and new funding model for nuclear
US passes historic infrastructure investment law to improve assets. Image credit: Shutterstock

International Transport Forum highlights weak focus on reducing emissions from transport

In its review of 194 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) (promises from world governments on how they plan to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement), the International Transport Forum (ITF) found that while progress has been made on including transport compared to six years ago, the impact will be inadequate.

While most countries recognise the need to mitigate emissions from transport in their NDCs only 16% have set specific targets to reduce emissions. Even then, these countries only account for 6% of total global emissions. Only Japan and Canada from high-emitting countries have specific, measurable targets for mitigating emissions from transport.

The Paris Climate Agreement required countries to ratchet up ambition every five years, and compared to COP21 six years ago; there has been some progress but not enough. At COP26 in Glasgow, countries agreed to come back in a year at COP27 in Egypt to drive up ambition further. Mitigating emissions from transport will have to be one area where countries need to do more.

ICE’s view

Transport is a major source of emissions around the world. In the UK over the last decade, those emissions have risen. While publications like the UK Transport Decarbonisation Plan are welcome, hard targets are needed to focus minds. There is no path to net-zero by 2050 that doesn’t run through decarbonising transport, COP27 will need to see greater ambition from governments.

US president signs 1.2 trillion USD Infrastructure Act into law

First announced nine months ago, the US Congress has passed an Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to increase investment in the US infrastructure system and this has now been signed into law by President Joe Biden.

In total, USD 550bn is new money to be spent over five years, with the rest of the USD 1.2 trillion being reauthorisations for existing infrastructure spending. The vast majority of the investment will go into transport assets and public transport but also includes upgrades to water, energy and digital networks.

There is a strong focus in the plan on renewals and upgrades over new assets being built. Earlier this year, the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) rated America’s infrastructure system a C-minus in their five-yearly stocktake of America’s infrastructure. Its report also highlighted a finance gap of USD 2.59 trillion between forecast spend and what was needed, which the new law goes some way to addressing.

The majority of the new funds will be spent through grants given to US states. This means that what gets funded, if at all, is not yet clear. A decent proportion of money in the act is made up of unspent Covid-19 funds and relief packages.

ICE’s view

We echo the views of our sister organisation ASCE, the new law is a ‘once-in-a-generation investment’. However, steps need to be taken to improve stability, certainty and reliability of funding that will deliver outcomes for the public. Without an infrastructure assessment or strategy, it will be difficult to judge success, even more so given states will also act as a filter to determine their own priorities. An infrastructure assessment, strategy and sustainable approach to funding are key.

UK government agrees new financing model for nuclear

The UK government has confirmed that a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model will be used to finance large nuclear plants and potentially Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).

A few years ago, the increasing strike price at Hinkley Point C, the withdrawal of investors from multiple nuclear power stations, and the tumbling costs of renewables started to raise questions about the future of the UK’s nuclear landscape.

But the urgency of the 2050 net-zero target has thrown nuclear into sharp relief as a reliable, long-term baseload power source. Nuclear is currently the single largest source of low-carbon electricity in the UK, and it’s clear that a mix of nuclear and renewables will be required on the journey to reach and sustain net-zero carbon emissions.

The nuclear RAB model – which has been used to finance projects such as Heathrow Terminal 5 and Thames Tideway Tunnel – aims to cut the cost of new nuclear by up to £30 billion.

While the public will pay for a part of nuclear schemes' costs upfront through their bills, the RAB model makes high-risk projects more attractive to investors as it allows them to receive returns before a project has been completed.

ICE’s view

ICE was broadly supportive of the RAB model for new nuclear when it was first proposed in 2019. Our previous work on reducing the gap between forecasts and outturns of major infrastructure projects identified project proposers should complete scope, design and exploration before work begins to mitigate scope creep or retroactive changes. The onus is now on nuclear project proposers to have a mature design from the outset to ensure the public receive value for money.

In case you missed it...

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  • Chris Richards, director of policy at Institution of Civil Engineers