National Highways “fiddling at the edges” while the planet burns

As National Highways issued its Net Zero Highways Progress Report [1], Transport Action Network compared the carbon emissions they claim to have saved with the huge increases caused by its £24 billion roads programme, RIS2 [2]. The claimed savings are a tiny fraction of the emissions caused by National Highway’s roadbuilding.

In the Progress Report, National Highways (NH) claimed to have saved 55,580 tonnes of carbon from its corporate activities in 2020-21, yet the construction of the controversial A303 Stonehenge scheme alone would increase emissions by 466,903 tonnes, and the extra traffic for its opening year would add another 23,990 tonnes [3]. These increases, caused by NH’s own activities, would dwarf any of these savings it has outlined.

The emissions caused by the construction for the £8.2 billion Lower Thames Crossing (LTC) are estimated by NH to be over 2.53 million tonnes, and the extra traffic would cause an additional 2,760,059 tonnes over the 60-year design life of the scheme [4].

Using NH’s own data [5], TAN has calculated that the extra traffic from the entire RIS2 roads programme would increase emissions by almost 33 million tonnes, whilst the construction would add another six million tonnes.

To justify its road schemes, National Highways use national planning policy to compare a scheme’s carbon impacts against the entire carbon output of the UK, and then calls them “insignificant”. TAN calls this “the ridiculous carbon test” [6]. This policy was the subject of a legal challenge by TAN in 2020-2021 [7].

National Highways has dismissed the carbon increases caused by the A303 Stonehenge scheme as representing “less than 0.03% of total emissions in any five year carbon budget during which they arise” [8]. Yet, the corporate emissions savings by National Highways of just 55,580 tonnes in 2020-21, when compared to the UK’s 2021 emissions of 424.5 million tonnes [9] comes out as 0.013% of UK’s total emissions.

Rebecca Lush, Roads and Climate Campaigner at Trans port Action Network, said:

“With climate change starting to show how devastating it can be, National Highways continues to fiddle while the planet burns. Changing lightbulbs is no compensation for the damage wrought by building new roads that increase carbon emissions by millions of tonnes.

“While we welcome all efforts to reduce emissions, if we apply National Highways’ way of assessing roads carbon to its own savings, then they are insignificant by its own standards. Which begs the question, why is National Highways making such a song and dance about its achievements? Either these savings are significant or they are not. But if they are deemed significant then National Highways needs to be more honest about the negative impact that its road building is having on the planet.”

“DfT and National Highways are currently planning the next roads strategy, RIS3 from 2025-2030. To show they are serious about reducing carbon, they must replace the bloated road building programme with investment in maintenance instead.”

– ENDS –

Notes to Editors

[1] National Highways Net Zero Progress Report, August 2022

[2] RIS2 Roads & Climate

[3] Tables 14-14 and 14-15 of the A303 Stonehenge Environmental Statement Climate Chapter, National Highways, October 2018

[4] Tables A1 and A9 in NH’s Lower Thames Crossing Carbon and Energy Plan, October 2020

[5] RIS2 Roads & Climate

[6] Ridiculous Carbon Test

[7] Transport Action Network’s legal challenge to the National Networks National Policy Statement (NNNPS)

[8] 14.9.10 of the A303 Stonehenge Environmental Statement Climate Chapter, National Highways, October 2018

[9] 2021 UK greenhouse gas emissions, provisional figures (MtCO2e), BEIS, March 2022


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