The environmental opportunity costs of HS2

As part of the release of the New Economics Foundation report published last week, Friends of the Earth published a new briefing paper on the opportunity costs of HS2. You can see it here.

We’re really pleased that Friends of the Earth have at last looked carefully at the massive environmental problems of HS2, and now recognise that “HS2 is the wrong kind of railway spending”.

The Friends of the Earth briefing paper picks up on a number of the problems with HS2.  Here are three of them.

Climate change/carbon

HS2 has never had a good case when it comes to carbon. But with each release of information by HS2 Ltd, it has got worse, with latest HS2 publication in February of an updated carbon information paper actually showing that it will cause increasing carbon emissions. And that’s before you include the carbon embedded in the construction of HS2.

Modal shift

Another part of the problem with HS2 listed by Friends of the Earth is the modal shift. As they point out,

“Proponents often argue that it will however offset these through attracting people from cars or domestic flights. However, the Department for Transport’s own figures suggest only 1% of passengers are likely to be people who would have flown, and only 4% of people who would have driven.

“This analysis also doesn’t take into account the aviation industry switching slots for domestic flights to more profitable international flights, as is the norm, nor increased car transport as people drive to HS2 rail stations instead of using local stations.”

Instead, Friends of the Earth argue that their are  “pitiful levels of spending on walking, cycling, buses and trams”, and to meet our international climate change commitments “will require substantial increases in spending on public transport, cycling and walking”  .  They refer to last year’s National Infrastructure Commission report, saying

“It suggests an additional £43 billion pounds in urban transport spending between now and 2040 (ie, around £2 billion per year), noting that because HS2 is “committed spend” less money is available in the near term.”

In essence, money being spent on HS2 is not available to spend on other projects which could have a substantial effect on reducing climate change.

Wildlife Sites

Another big problem is that HS2 is massively damaging to the wildlife sites, such as 108 ancient woodland sites.  Friends of the Earth say that even if the rest of the case for HS2 was adequate, “Friends of the Earth and others would still be vociferous about the damage and destruction of 108 ancient woodlands and other wildlife sites along the route.”

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