New report on HS2 highlights its carbon impacts

12 November, 2019

Lack of national transport capacity drives the need for HS2. And the carbon advantage of electrified rail means that HS2 is better than any alternative investment response in climate change terms.

A new report – HS2: Towards a Zero Carbon Future – produced for HSR Industry Leaders by independent author Ralph Smyth, speaks of a transport policy hierarchy aimed at sustainable outcomes. The first measure in the hierarchy after reducing the demand for travel is driving positive modal sift, his report shows. Attract people away from the most carbon-intensive transport options to the least.

Electrified rail is the only high-capacity alternative that offers a realistic prospect of zero carbon travel.

With the main travel arteries – mainline railways, motorways (and airports in SE England) all operating close to capacity for much of the day – the need for a strategic investment that adds capacity and provides a zero-carbon travel option is unanswerable. Transport, after all, has now risen to be the sector generating the largest proportion of the UK’s greenhouse gases.

Some travel modes – air travel, long-haul road freight – are amongst the hardest to de-carbonise. No transport investment other than HS2 provides a low-carbon travel alternative to these two problem modes.

Ralph Smyth, when at Campaign for Rural England, was a client for our assessment of the carbon impacts of HS2 seven years ago. That study argued for caution, deferring adoption of full high-speed operation until 2030 when electrical power generation could be sufficiently de-carbonised.

Well, it looks like HS2 will now not be opened until 2030 and – here’s the good news – the UK is ahead of earlier projections of how fast electrical power generation could be weaned off fossil fuel dependence.

HS2 is a project in which Ralph has taken a deep interest from an environmental standpoint. In fact, he was the only person from whom the Parliamentary Committee scrutinising the impacts of HS2 took evidence on carbon impacts. His new report for HSRIL provides evidence on progress being made to reduce the carbon impacts from the project’s construction phase and valuable pointers on how to get the full carbon benefits from the project.