Carbon emissions from England’s planned £27bn roadbuilding programme, the second roads investment strategy (RIS2), described as “the largest ever investment in English strategic roads”, paying for 4,000 miles of road and including such schemes as the Lower Thames Crossing and the Stonehenge tunnel will be about 100 times greater than the government has stated, according to expert witnesses.
Ministers and DfT officials have stated that new schemes in RIS2 would contribute just 0.27 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e) until 2032, the end of the UK’s fifth carbon budget period, under the framework set out by the Committee on Climate Change. The transport minister, Rachel Maclean said, in a parliamentary answer, “When compared to the UK’s fifth carbon budget of 1,725 MtCO2e, these schemes represent an extremely small component.”
Two UK transport and environment professors – both of whom have previously acted as advisers to the government – said the true impact of the roadbuilding would be many times greater than the Department for Transport’s calculations suggest.
Phil Goodwin, emeritus professor of transport policy at UCL, said in a deposition that “the total emissions of carbon from RIS2 schemes reported by Highways England in its separate scheme appraisals give a number which is roundly 100 times greater than that suggested by DfT witnesses”. He said that the government’s calculations appeared to include only “new” schemes in RIS2, just five of the 50 listed in the £27bn roadbuilding programme. He said it appeared to exclude significant contributors to the climate crisis such as emissions from construction, and that the government had not factored in a lifetime impact, but only until 2032 – when some of the road schemes would not have been completed.
Jillian Anable, professor of transport and energy at the University of Leeds, testified: “We are not aware of any calculation by the DfT of a cumulative figure for carbon emissions through to 2050, arising from all the road schemes funded by the RIS2 … and covering construction emissions as well as ongoing increases in emissions due to higher vehicle speeds and induced traffic. This is the relevant figure in order to understand the impact of RIS2.”
Chris Todd, the director of Transport Action Network (TAN) said, “Even when all cars are electric, building ever bigger roads and ever more cars means adding carbon emissions from construction, manufacturing and maintenance, extra emissions the planet can’t afford. Simply focusing on tailpipe emissions risks shifting many emissions from one sector to another. Ministers should stop refusing to do the maths and add up all the climate impacts of their policies. It’s time for road-building to face its final reckoning.”