We know many very committed Greens are involved in these protests against HS2, concerned about the loss of habitat and woodland. We respect their dedication, but they’re protesting about the wrong thing. The real enemy is the government’s vast RIS2 road-building programme.
Unlike RIS2, HS2 is an investment in a low-CO2 future. It may not look like it now during construction, but the tree loss and upheaval we see is going to be paid back over decades because of how it helps the shift from high-CO2 cars and planes to low-CO2 travel. (We say much more about HS2 and CO2 here.)
This chart summarises the situation. Over 60 years, even with no policy assistance, HS2 will be carbon-neutral or better, and over 120 years a huge win. With Green policies behind it, it will be a major sustainability win.
(One figure often heavily underestimated even by Greens is how much carbon savings come from even a small modal shift away from air.)
By contrast, the RIS2 roads programme is made up of 75 road schemes, often quoted as “4000 miles” of road, that unlike railways can only ever add to CO2 emissions. Nobody is even attempting to make an environmental case in favour.
An excellent report from Transport for Quality of Life has looked into the CO2 generation of the RIS2 road schemes. The whole programme will generate about 20 million tonnes of CO2 over just 12 years. More than HS2.
And some specific schemes: the A303 Stonehenge Tunnel, a single 2-mile road scheme, will generate 1.95 million tonnes of CO2 during operation over 60 years (as well as destroying some of the most important archaeology in the country) – that’s nearly double the whole of HS2! And it’ll keep doing it for ever.
And the Lower Thames Crossing, another short chunk of motorway, will generate 5.7 million tonnes of CO2 after 60 years, and will keep on doing it. And it potentially impacts more ancient woodland (54 hectares) than HS2 Phases 1 and 2a (39 hectares) put together. (Here’s more about HS2 and ancient woodlands.)
This is how the 60-year impact of these schemes compares to the published HS2 CO2 impact, which as we’ve seen above understates the benefits of HS2.
And that’s just the CO2. What about the land take?
RIS2 is “4000 miles of road”. Let’s be generous, and assume that that’s counting lanes rather than roads, and that each lane is 4 metres wide – that’s about 25 sq km of land. That’s around twice as much as #HS2. The only way to really get a grasp on how vast the land-grab for road building is from the air:
So on CO2 and land, the roads programme is bigger and MUCH more destructive than HS2. And it is NOT, repeat NOT, an investment in a sustainable future. HS2 is.
So Green campaigners, including tree-protectors and veterans of the 1980s/90s road campaigns, should take a breather, lay off HS2, and start mobilising to deal with the real threat to land, habitats and the climate – the RIS2 road-building programme.
If you want to stop road building in its tracks, support the Transport Action Network who are bringing a crowd-funded legal case against RIS2.