The Government’s efforts to reduce vehicle emissions by encouraging greater uptake of electric cars will largely be negated by its £27bn road building programme, according to a new report.
Environmental consultancy Transport for Quality of Life says that in the next 12 years, 80 per cent of the CO2 savings from electric cars will be wiped out by the impact of new roads and the traffic they generate.
The BBC reports that its findings are based on data collected by Highways England.
About a third of the increased emissions from road building between now and 2032 will come from construction (land clearance and embodied carbon in materials); a third from higher speeds; and a third from increases in traffic.
A government spokesperson responded: “This assessment is wholly incorrect and doesn’t take into account the benefits from the massive surge in electric vehicles.
"The Road Investment Strategy is consistent with our ambition to improve air quality and decarbonise transport."
The report accepts that in the long run CO2 emissions from cars will go down as a result of the switch to electric vehicles. However, it says that as the majority of cars will still not be electric by 2030, the process will be too slow to avoid climate catastrophe.
“If we are to meet the legally-binding carbon budgets, we need to make big cuts in carbon emissions over the next decade," said lead author, Lynn Sloman, who is a consultant for the Department for Transport.
"That will require faster adoption of electric cars – but it will also require us to reduce vehicle mileage by existing cars. Unfortunately, the Government’s £27bn road programme will make things worse, not better.”
Studies have repeatedly shown that new road schemes create more traffic as they also tend to give rise to car-dependent housing, retail and business parks.
“More roads just mean more cars,” said Sloman. “Decades of road investment have not solved congestion.
“Sustained lobbying for more money for roads, leaving less for public transport, cycling and walking, is one of the reasons we now face a climate emergency. We can’t afford any more to indulge this Toad of Toad Hall model of mindless road-building.”
She added: "This is an institutional problem. There are people in the Department for Transport and Highways England who have built their careers on big road building budgets, and they won't easily give them up.
“But there are also some officials – and perhaps some politicians – who are starting to recognise that the climate emergency means we need a radically different approach to transport."