Climate Change is the elephant in the room when it comes to transport.  It's the one area consistently ignored by the Department for Transport as it suggests that the increase in emissions from new roads is so insignificant it can be covered by other measures.  Unfortunately, the evidence is showing this to be wrong.  Transport emissions continue to grow and as the Climate Change Committee said in their 2019 progress reportGovernment continues to be off track for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets - on their own appraisal - and the policy gap has widened further this year as an increase in the projection of future emissions has outweighed the impact of new policies.

In its 2020 progress report it said: It is 12 months since Net Zero became law, requiring the UK to reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases to zero by 2050. Initial steps towards a net-zero policy package have been taken, but this was not the year of policy progress that the Committee called for in 2019.

Significantly it said: Public money should not support industries or infrastructure in a way that is not consistent with the future net-zero economy or that increase exposure to climate risks. It went on to say that broadband should be invested in before road building, although stopped short of calling for an outright halt to the roads programme.

Surface transport is now the largest emitting sector in the UK, accounting for 24% of all emissions in 2019. Surface transport is also the only sector (other than international aviation and shipping) where emissions have grown since 1990 (figure 1.4, page 49, Climate Change Committee: Net Zero The UK's contribution to stopping global warming). The same report also recommended a:

Shift away from car travel:

    • Moving from car travel onto other modes of transport (walking, cycling and public transport) is an effective way of reducing emissions from vehicles and also results in less time spent in congestion and health benefits from more physical activity.
    • Ricardo's 2013 estimates found that a 5% shift in travel from cars to other modes resulted in a monetised annual benefit of 0.5% of GDP in 2030.
    • Our net-zero scenarios assume a 10% transport modal shift, which suggests benefits by 2050 would be greater. [p240]

That's why we wrote to Grant Shapps in March 2020 calling on him to review the National Networks National Policy Statement and halt the publication of the Roads Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2). Grant Shapps eventually agreed to review the national policy statement but still shows unabated enthusiasm for approving damaging new roads. He's now approved three schemes against the advice of planning inspectors.

Yet at the same time in Decarbonisation transport: setting the challenge, Grant Shapps said: "Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network." It published: Decarbonising Transport - A Better, Greener Britain in June 2021 with more good commitments although these are undermined by the lack of funding for alternatives and the avoidance of demand management.

The Committee produced its advice on the 6th carbon budget, in December 2020, which says we need to cut emissions by 78% by 2035. Further increasing the pressure for change.

You can read more about the impacts roads have on climate change by clicking on the specific pages on the left.