If the UK is to stay on track in meeting it’s carbon reduction targets, the Government is going to need to do a lot more to address emissions from the transport sector. But is a shift to high speed rail part of the solution?
Today the RSPB has submitted its response to the Government’s consultation on High Speed 2 (HS2) – the proposed high speed rail link between London and Birmingham, and eventually on to the north of England and Scotland. The debate around this proposal has waged fiercely in the media in recent weeks with strongly held views both pro and anti.
Here at the RSPB, we’re not against the principle of high speed rail. Indeed, we believe that, done well, it could provide a meaningful alternative to building more motorways or more airports to expand domestic air travel – both of which can cause significant damage to wildlife and the climate. However, when it comes to HS2, the Government needs to do a lot more to make the case for this proposal. It needs to show that high speed rail can be at the heart of efforts to reduce carbon emissions and protect biodiversity.
The Government heralded HS2 as one of the measures that would help deliver a low carbon economy. However, at the moment the scheme is described as “broadly carbon neutral” which simply isn’t good enough when we need to be reducing emissions by at least 80% by 2050.
So how can high speed rail move beyond ‘broadly neutral’ and really deliver for the climate? More needs to happen, and getting the right policies in place would be a good start. To make a real difference the prices you and I pay should encourage a switch between cars or planes to high speed rail. It could get better! The space on the exiting rail network freed up by passengers choosing high speed travel could encourage a switch of freight from road to rail. High speed rail can provide real alternatives and should go along with a moratorium on airport expansion and major road development.
HS2 is a massive construction project with potentially, though as yet unconvincing, benefits, but the impact will be significant. We expect HS2 to avoid harm to all wildlife sites and semi-natural habitats wherever possible. We are concerned about the damage likely to be caused to Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and local wildlife sites and want to see Government do much more to avoid impacts. Where damage is predicted mitigation measures to reduce any direct and indirect effects will be required. Where damage to habitats and species cannot be avoided , we will expect proposals that replace the losses on a like for like basis. This compensatory habitat should be agreed and implemented before the damage occurs. Beyond this, all opportunities for enhancing biodiversity must be taken.
So alongside other major environmental NGOs, who have signed up to the Right Lines Charter the RSPB is calling for the Government to do High Speed Rail well, but current proposals fall well short of what is needed
To read the RSPB’s response in more detail click here
Take 3 minutes out of your busy lives and watch RSPB climate campaigner Olly Watts and others from the Stop Climate Chaos Coaltion talking to Tessa Jowell about climate change here -