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Net Zero requires road pricing and no new roads, says report


13 July 2020

Road pricing, lower speed limits and the cancellation of road improvements in the Government’s Road Investment Strategy must implemented to ensure transport contributes to the statutory net zero greenhouse gas target, says a new study. 

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The report looks specifically at road transport CO2 emissions and is authored by Lynn Sloman and Lisa Hopkinson of environmental transport consultancy Transport for Quality of Life (TfQL). Other contributors were academics Phil Goodwin, Jillian Anable and Sally Cairns, and TfQL’s Ian Taylor.

The researchers estimate that total CO2 emissions from traffic on Highways England’s Strategic Road Network between now and 2032 will amount to 381 million tonnes under the DfT’s road traffic forecast scenario with the most optimistic assumptions about electric vehicle uptake.  

The authors recommend the DfT sets binding carbon budgets for different parts of the transport sector, which are consistent with the Paris Climate Agreement. 

“By analogy with carbon budgets proposed for local authorities by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, we estimate that a fair, Paris-compliant budget for the Strategic Road Network between now and 2032 is about 214 MtCO2.

“This would mean that total carbon emissions from the SRN over the next 12 years need to be cut by about 167 MtCO2, or 44 per cent of forecast levels, even assuming the DfT’s most optimistic forecast of how emissions will change with rapid uptake of electric vehicles.” 

Suggesting that this target is “extremely challenging”, they add: “It will only be possible through a combination of a faster switch to electric vehicles (e.g. requiring all new cars/vans to be fully electric from 2030) and a significant reduction in vehicle mileage. 

“Mileage reduction will require measures to restrict driving, such as road pricing, better and more affordable rail and coach services, improvements in conditions for active travel, better planning to prevent car dependent development, and universal roll-out of superfast broadband to support remote working. 

“Further carbon could be saved by reducing the speed limit on the SRN to 60mph, with speed camera enforcement.”

Road improvements included in the Government’s recently published five-year Road Investment Strategy 2 will add a further 20 million tonnes of CO2, the authors estimate. This, they say, will arise from three roughly equal sources: embodied carbon in road construction; carbon emissions from higher speeds; and induced traffic.  

“This increase in CO2 from RIS2 will negate 80 per cent of potential carbon savings from electric vehicles on the SRN between now and 2032,” say the authors.

“This suggests that RIS2 is incompatible with our legal obligation to cut carbon emissions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, the Climate Change Act budgets, and the emerging principles for the DfT’s decarbonisation plan. 

“We therefore believe that it should be cancelled.”

The authors say this would free up billions of pounds for investment in measures such as creating thousands of local ‘remote working’ hubs as a short-term response to Covid-19, and universal superfast broadband. 

“It could also be used to improve active travel and public transport networks.”

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