Road-building spree will derail UK’s net zero targets, warn campaigners
The UK’s net zero targets will be missed because of a planned “road-building spree” by the Department for Transport, campaigners have said.
Officials had to edit the department’s “transport decarbonisation plan” to add 26 megatonnes of carbon emissions because of an oversight regarding polluting hybrid vehicles, and projections for an increase in van traffic.
Documents released by the DfT state: “Recent evidence suggests PHEVs [plug-in hybrid electric vehicles] are 3-5 times more polluting in the real world than in test drives. This adjustment raises baseline emissions. Post-Covid car demand has been lowered by 5% to reflect lower levels of commuting. However, the Department for Transport forecasts that HGV and van miles will be higher than that forecast … due to outturn data showing higher van and HGV traffic than previously assumed.”
Campaigners also criticised a new policy by the DfT which requires decision-makers to ignore the negative climate impact of road-building and traffic but to give weight to tree planting around schemes as a nature-based solution to climate change. It says an increase in emissions from road schemes is “not a reason to prohibit” their approval.
There are 32m cars on the UK’s roads, and they are growing in number and size. Transport is the country’s largest emitting sector and produced 24% of the UK’s total emissions in 2020.
Chris Todd, the director of campaign group Transport Action Network, said: “The DfT claims this new policy will ensure transport projects ‘meet environmental targets’. Yet it states that an increase in emissions from road schemes is not ‘reason to prohibit’ or restrict their approval.
“With the revised net zero strategy admitting we are off track to meet 2030 targets, ministers are deliberately accelerating us towards runaway climate change. We need the public to tell them to slam the brakes on this road-building spree. Instead, we urgently need world-class public transport and active travel, not world-destroying temperature rises.”
Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, said: “For far too long transport policy has been dominated by motoring and road building, with its consequential and largely ignored impact on climate change and air pollution.
“Britain’s transport system needs a change of direction with priority given to better public transport and cycling infrastructure instead of more motoring. Billions of pounds are being squandered on more road-building when more pressing needs are vastly underfunded – from rural buses to home insulation.”
Dr Doug Parr, policy director for Greenpeace UK, added: “Any government which, in the middle of a climate emergency, finds itself planning for a major programme of new roads can count itself as a failure.”
The government recently blocked the release of the carbon emission figures behind its transport decarbonisation plan. It blocked academics from seeing the figures, which include data on how much car use would have to be reduced in order to reach net zero commitments.
Campaigners say meeting these legally binding targets will be possible only with a drastic reduction in motor traffic, which could make many new road projects financially unviable.
A DfT spokesperson said: “This is incorrect. We are committed to delivering our net zero ambition and this hasn’t changed since we published our world-leading transport decarbonisation plan. In line with best analytical practice, the department continually reviews its projections and makes changes when appropriate to ensure plans are based on the latest scientific data.”