In a week when the Lords Science and Technology Select Committee says the Government is “too complacent” about Britain’s nuclear energy strategy it’s worth looking at what the Transport Select Committee said about the carbon impacts of HS2. That’s because the impacts of running HS2 on Britain’s carbon emissions are tightly connected to our energy policies, and use of low carbon electricity generation like nuclear power.
The Coalition Government decided to promote high speed rail, and HS2 in particular, as part of their efforts to create a low carbon economy, so it’s not surprising the Transport Select Committee included a section on the carbon impacts of HS2 in the report they issued recently.
They pointed out that a substantial amount of carbon would be emitted during construction: this is not taken into account in the case presented by HS2 Ltd.
The TSC also pointed out that because HS2 trains are powered by electricity, the carbon emissions of operating HS2 depend on whether the UK’s electricity supply is “decarbonised”. Without moves to generate more of the UK’s electricity by low carbon sources, such as nuclear or wind, HS2’s operations will only be carbon neutral in contradiction with the Coalition Goverment’s aims.
In France, however, high speed rail is part of a low carbon strategy. Why the difference?
The following table was in the TSC document (it’s their table 2): it shows the proportion of electricity generated by low carbon means, such as nuclear power. France, Germany, and Spain all have a much higher proportion of electricity generated by non-fossil fuels, meaning that when changing from road or air travel in those countries, there is a much higher carbon benefit.
|Country||Population (2010)||Area&NBSP:||High-speed lines in operation (2011)||Rail passenger use (20091)||Nuclear and renewables as % of total electricity production (2010)||CO2 from domestic aviation (2009)|
|(million)||(km sq)||(miles)||(million passenger kilometres)||(%)||(million tonnes)|
Note: 1 Rail passenger figure for Italy is for 2008
The World Bank
Union Internationale des Chemins de fer (UIC)
House of Commons Library (SN/SC/5533) EU ETS and Aviation
The Transport Select Committee report concludes the section on carbon by saying “Table 2 also shows there is no simple link between highspeed rail and carbon emissions from domestic aviation.”
However the picture is even less favourable then the table implies.
Most of Britain’s non-fossil fuel generated electricity comes from nuclear power. All our nuclear power stations are reaching the end of their generating lives. Programmes to extend their generating life can only do so much: by the 2020s all Britain’s existing nuclear power stations need to be replaced to maintain our existing, relatively low level, of non-fossil fuel electricity generation.
Without genuine efforts to decarbonise our electricty grid, all carbon benefits claimed by HS2’s proponents are immediately worthless. And if our electricity generation is decarbonised, then the same carbon benefits could also accrue to a fully electrified railway network, or other electricity-powered modes of transport.