Given that the UK Government is supposed to be committed to reducing the UK’s carbon footprint, it is perverse that a huge sum of public money is being offered to provide a car-based alternative to travelling by rail.
In June 2019, the 2008 Climate Change Act was amended to commit the UK to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Transport emissions account for around a quarter of the UK’s emissions today. So, building a new expressway and one million new houses (which will themselves have significant effects on travel demand) only adds to the scale of the challenge, making it hugely difficult to meet the new requirements of the Act.
By law, projects of this size should be subject to a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). Yet the Government announced its preferred option without commissioning an SEA, bypassing the proper process. Bear in mind that an SEA would have scrutinised the environmental impacts of the various options in detail – giving local communities sight of the impacts on climate, and on people and wildlife. Perhaps the Government is scared that the findings of an SEA could scupper its plans.
In October 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that we have just 12 years to avert climate catastrophe (read about it here). The IPCC’s team of scientists warn than action must be taken right now to reduce the risk of extreme heat, floods, climate-related poverty for millions of people and massive loss of biodiversity. The team did not recommend building new Expressways as a way out of the crisis.
The national office of the Campaign to Protect Rural England is calling for a full Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry into the proposals, as well as an SEA, stating:
At a time when we desperately need to prioritise investment in sustainable travel options, it makes no sense to lock in carbon emissions, air pollution and car-dependency, for decades to come.
The Government is well aware of this report, yet is apparently still committed to unlimited economic growth, laughably referred to as “sustainable”. Growing economies demand more and more non-renewable resources, especially oil. Meanwhile, climate scientists know that burning fossil fuels causes global temperatures to rise. None of this is difficult to understand. Yet, just days after the IPCC’s report, Chancellor Philip Hammond’s budget pledged to throw £30 billion at road building. He also promised a £3 billion tax break to oil and gas companies. He didn’t mention climate change once.
Building a new expressway and one million houses is the exact opposite of the actions we should be taking. The plans are not only backward, but reckless. The Government is operating on a wing and a prayer.
“Dear God/Invisible Hand/Spirit of Friedrich Hayek,
May our quest for endless economic growth somehow coexist with a viable future for the world’s living systems and the people who depend on them. We have no idea how this might happen, but the economy works in mysterious ways.
PS: Don’t worry if you’ve got too much on; it’s not such a big deal.” (George Monbiot, “Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis”, Verso – London 2017).