Campaigners say meeting legal net zero targets is only possible with a drastic decrease in motor traffic, which could make many new road projects financially unviable
The UK will miss net zero targets because of a planned “road-building spree” by the Department for Transport (DfT), campaigners have said.
This follows an update to the department’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan which adds 130 megatonnes of carbon emissions to the figures. Documents released by the DfT suggest that despite a reduction in commuting post-Covid, HGV and van miles will be higher than forecast. In addition, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are three to five times more polluting in the real world than in test drives, leading to an increase in baseline emissions.
Campaigners have voiced their criticism of the National Networks National Policy Statement (NNNPS) which will set the planning policy framework for roads for the next five to 10 years and will require developers of new road, rail and rail freight schemes to show how they will meet environmental targets, consider biodiversity net gains and the impact of their proposals on carbon emissions.
The proposal is currently out for consultation until June 2023 with critics arguing that it requires decision-makers to ignore the negative climate impact of roadbuilding and traffic and give weight to tree planting around schemes as a nature-based solution to climate change.
“We should be investing in the alternatives to car-use such as public transport and cycling infrastructure, not wasting billions of pounds building roads which lock in decades of car dependency.”
It “is as bad as its 2014 predecessor as it tells decision makers to ignore increases in carbon from roadbuilding,” Rebecca Lush, roads and climate campaigner at Transport Action Network, told EHN Extra. "The government's roadbuilding plans belong in the 20th century.”
“To tackle climate change, air pollution and to increase cycling and walking we should be investing in the alternatives to car-use such as public transport and cycling infrastructure, not wasting billions of pounds building roads which lock in decades of car dependency,” Lush added. “The new net zero strategy and the draft national roads policy show the government is still driving us in the wrong direction by facilitating traffic growth and ignoring increases in carbon emissions from roadbuilding."
Mike Childs, Head of Policy, Friends of the Earth told The Guardian: “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 should give priority to better public transport and cycling infrastructure instead of more motoring, he added.
A DfT spokesperson told EHN Extra: “We have a clear plan to reach net zero, as set out in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, and our road investment strategy is designed to take account of the environment as it transforms the network in England.”
The government recently blocked the release of the carbon emission figures behind its Transport Decarbonisation Plan, preventing academics from seeing the data including how much car use would have to be reduced to reach net zero commitments. Campaigners say meeting these legal targets will only be possible with a drastic decrease in motor traffic, which could make many new road projects financially unworkable.
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