Road to climate chaos

Last week the Department for Transport’s (DfT) £27 billion RIS2 roads programme of 50 new road schemes and ‘Smart’ Motorways was in the dock at the High Court as our case against this profligate waste of money and highly damaging proposal was finally heard. Our legal team argued it was incompatible with meeting our national and international commitments to reduce carbon emissions.

The  DfT’s obsession with new roads is becoming increasingly untenable, especially with the imminent publication of its Transport Decarbonisation Plan. At the same time the Welsh Government has suspended new road building and the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has published its 2021 Progress Report on the Government’s record in tackling carbon emissions. The CCC is clearly becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of action by Government. Its messaging on new roads has got a lot stronger, with a clear recommendation that: “Decisions on investment in roads should be contingent on analysis justifying how they contribute to the UK’s pathway to Net Zero. This analysis should demonstrate that the proposals would not lead to increases in overall emissions”.

This is further than the CCC has gone before on criticising the Government’s road building plans. To secure the 63% cut in emissions needed between 2019 and 2035 (78% cut since 1990), the CCC is calling on the Government to “prioritise funding away from car use” and to provide “measures to make it less attractive to drive”. These legally binding targets were all grounds we covered in our RIS2 challenge, as well as the 68% cut by 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) target the Government committed to under the Paris Agreement. All these targets demonstrate the urgency and enormity of the action required.

As the ban on the sale of new fossil fuel powered cars won’t happen until 2030 and most of the old fleet will still remain on the road for 10-15 years after that, the Government needs a plan for the short and medium term to achieve these cuts in road transport emissions. The “largest ever” roads programme takes us in the opposite direction needed before 2030. Research has also shown that relying on switching to electric vehicles (EVs) will not achieve these necessary cuts in the short space of time we have, and it is critical for us also to radically reduce traffic, not just reduce the rate of growth.

This month we’re expecting the Government to finally publish its much delayed Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP), as well as a decision from the High Court on whether our second legal challenge to their outdated national roads policy can proceed, on climate grounds. Whether the TDP addresses the challenges and contradictions laid out in our RIS2 legal challenge we will have to wait and see, but if it’s relying on technology like EVs it’s likely to fail. The Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) 2021 progress report was a stark reminder that words are easy, but action to deliver climate change requires long term commitment and a sense of urgency.

Read our press release about the Transport Decarbonisation Plan


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