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The true costs of infrastructure

  • by JW

… contradictions, alternatives and trying to square the circle



It’s all steam ahead for one of the UK’s biggest infrastructure projects:

HS2 gets green light to extend line to Crewe – New Civil Engineer

The North has been sending out conflicting messages over HS2:

WATCH: Burnham promises ‘almighty fight’ if Johnson tries to scrap HS2 | Conservative Home

Andy Burnham favours Northern Powerhouse Rail over HS2 amid rumours PM ‘to put Manchester leg under review’ – Manchester Evening News

But London is running out of cash:

Fears North could miss out on high speed rail schemes because of ‘overspend in London’ – YorkshireLive

Meanwhile, voices in the South West continue to demand their bit of mega-infrastructure:

X-shaped HS2 network ‘could allow high-speed rail links through Bristol and South West’ – Business Live

However, there are real questions as to whether such projects will create more emissions than they will save:

There’s controversy over emissions from HS2 – the planned high-speed railway linking cities in the north and the Midlands with London. A previous report said it wouldn’t reduce CO2 overall for more than 100 years, largely because of the emissions created during tunnelling and construction. HS2 says that forecast is out of date – and points to measures it has taken to reduce construction emissions by using less steel to do the same job. … HS2’s environment director Peter Miller said: “HS2 is playing a crucial role in supporting the green economic recovery and ensuring the UK is on track to achieve net-zero by 2050.” … Greens don’t trust the revised CO2 figures, and say the £100bn cost of HS2 could have been spent better on more effective climate policies.

PM’s climate vision: 10 steps forward, 10 steps back? – BBC News

The UK prime minister Boris Johnson has announced a long-awaited “10-point plan” laying out measures to scale up the nation’s climate ambition.

BBC News’s energy and environment analyst Roger Harrabin said the “total amount of new money announced in the package is a 25th of the projected £100bn cost of high-speed rail, HS2”.

Media reaction: Boris Johnson’s ‘10-point’ net-zero plan for climate change



So then, the UK government has promised big:

The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution (HTML version) – GOV.UK

However, there are questions about its effectiveness:

It is late and riddled with holes. But UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s 10-point climate plan is still the first big step towards meeting the country’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050 since it was set last year. Johnson claims the plan’s wide-ranging technological fixes amount to a “green industrial revolution” – but is it enough? In general, the plan’s most obvious shortcoming is money. The 10 points amount to £12 billion of funding in total, but only £4 billion of that is new. The UK government is spending at least £210 billion on covid-19 and £27 billion on road-building in England alone over five years. Caterina Brandmayr at the Green Alliance think tank in London says the funding for walking, cycling and public transport is £9.3 billion short of what is needed for net zero.

Is Boris Johnson’s climate plan enough for the UK to hit net zero? | New Scientist

And indeed, it’s the government’s road-building plan which looks increasingly out of place.

Here’s an analysis from July last year:

The carbon impact of the national roads programme FINAL.pdf

And here’s a report from a court case from yesterday:

Climate Change: Government may review road-building policy – BBC News

The Guardian has more:

The first sign that the government was in serious trouble over the long-mooted expansion of Heathrow airport came in a little-noticed letter from the Department for Transport in May 2019. In it, a government official acknowledged for the first time that the UK’s obligations under the Paris agreement, and its carbon budgets, would have to be taken into account in infrastructure planning decisions.
There were many further twists in the Heathrow story, but the central point that major infrastructure planning decisions need to take account of the UK’s legally binding obligations on the climate has been affirmed.
Campaigners now want to use the same argument to force a review of the government’s £27bn roadbuilding scheme, which they say would bust the UK’s carbon target and is incompatible with the obligation to reach net zero emissions by 2050, enshrined in law in June 2019.

UK government’s own climate laws may halt roadbuilding plans | Transport policy | The Guardian



To finish, here’s a positive look at the governement’s plans:

Powering Our Net Zero Future: Insights from the Government’s latest low carbon infrastructure white paper – Lexology

Infrastructure consultants WSP, naturally, strike a positive note:

Finally, it’s important to highlight that the infrastructure sector is responsible for over half of the UK carbon emissions. To reduce this contribution to climate change, a lead can be taken from organisations such as Anglian Water and HS2, where ambitious targets and best practice carbon management techniques have been deployed to reduce emissions. Whilst we may not have all the answers to the challenges of assessing and appraising projects, there is clear scope for improvement through additional clarity and carbon management best practice.

Climate Change and Infrastructure Planning Policy – WSP

The Transition to a Zero-Carbon Society | WSP

WSP Global – Wikipedia

But there are alternatives:

Green infrastructure planning | The Mersey Forest

How to Develop a green infrastructure strategy.pdf

photo: Pocket wetland | good pretreatment Photo credit: Center for … | Flickr

And so to Devon, where it’s clear that ‘infrastructure’ can be a lot cheaper and a lot less about grand posturing:

Guiding principle 8: Responding to climate change
Protect, manage and plan green infrastructure to help build resilience to the predicted effects of climate change and mitigate against its extreme global impacts, by:

  • promoting more sustainable travel through the use of green infrastructure corridors
  • promoting the use of natural resources to generate renewable and sustainable power
  • promoting the benefits of green infrastructure in helping to reduce the impact of flooding
  • developing a comprehensive network of habitats, enabling for habitat resilience, enhancement of biodiversity and allowing for species migration
  • planning, designing and managing green infrastructure to moderate temperature extremes in urban environments

Why this is important for Devon and beyond?
There is global recognition of the urgent need to do something to address climate change. The Climate Change Act (2008) sets in place legally binding carbon emission reduction targets for the UK as part of the UK Government’s move towards a Low Carbon Economy.

Guiding principle 8: Responding to climate change – Green Infrastructure

Finally, a note of caution:

However, a worldwide focus on energy and transport transition without calculating the additional greenhouse gas emissions and environmental cost of producing green infrastructure could lead to rising greenhouse gas concentration and ecological hazards.
For instance, the growing instalment of floating photovoltaic power farms will increase greenhouse gas emissions from the petrochemical industry due to rising demand for the plastic floating platforms, and lead to microplastic pollution from the degradation of floating platforms. The rapid unbalanced transition towards green growth and huge demand for new infrastructure could generate additional greenhouse gas emissions from the current fossil fuel production lines and lead to a rebound in greenhouse gas concentration.
The global rush to adopt electric transport, such as Biden’s plan to replace the government’s fleet with electric vehicles and Britain’s plan to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars, without addressing the power sector at the same speed, could simply shift greenhouse gas emissions from the transport to the power sectors.
The sudden demand for green equipment and infrastructure will also rapidly increase emissions and pollution from the mostly fuel-based manufacturing and transport sectors…

Why global rush to create green infrastructure may backfire | South China Morning Post