UK government blocks release of CO2 figures behind transport plan | Travel and transport

The UK government is refusing to release the carbon emissions figures behind its plan to decarbonise transport, which campaigners say could make proposed road plans financially unviable.

The Department for Transport (DfT) is blocking academics from seeing the figures, which include data on how much car use needs to be reduced to reach net zero liabilities.

Campaigners say meeting these legally binding targets will only be possible with a drastic reduction in motor traffic, which could make many new road projects financially unviable.

There are 32 million cars on Britain’s roads and they are growing both in number and size. Transport is the country’s largest emissions sector, and produced 24% of the total in 2020.

Last week, the DfT published the first long-term road traffic forecasts since 2018, and the first since the 2050 net zero target was signed into law in 2019.

Professor Greg Marsden, of the University of Leeds, said the figures showed the sector was breaching carbon targets and failing to meet its own carbon reduction plans. He has lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) demanding that the figures be released.

The projection shows that car use will increase or remain stable. It says: “In the high economy scenario, car journeys increase over time. In contrast, in the low economy scenario, road trips remain relatively stable until the 2040s, from which point they begin to decline.”

However, researchers say that a shift to electric vehicles alone is not enough, and that car use must be drastically reduced to reach net zero targets, with some reports showing that a reduction of at least 20% is needed by 2030. None of the DfT projections show this .

Marsden said: “The key question is: why is it OK to release information about scenarios that are not government policy, but not to release information about scenarios that are?”

The ICO agreed with Marsden, stating: “The Commissioner considers that there is a very strong public interest in the publication of data that will help the public understand policy decisions – particularly those designed to be as far-reaching and long-lasting as transport. decarbonisation strategy. Disclosure will help the public understand where the Government’s proposals are too ambitious, not ambitious enough or about right.”

However, the DfT has appealed the ruling, which has further delayed the publication of the figures.

The department argued that it does not need to submit its work on the decarbonisation plan as it is a ‘live policy’, arguing: “It has been submitted that these should not be disclosed because they are in effect the basis of future policies on the way. and are therefore to be considered as live policies. Such information should not be disclosed because this could lead to an inhibiting effect on discussing and developing these ideas.”

Rafe Smyth, of the Transport Action Network, has been working with Marsden to try to get the data published.

“We think this is because many of the major road schemes are already not showing value for money,” he said. There are hundreds of millions of pounds worth of road schemes in the pipeline. “If you downsize cars, they’re no longer economically viable,” Smyth said. “Ministers and the Treasury like big road plans, so they won’t like any plan that has a hypothetical big cut in traffic.”

The climate committee has argued that the government has not included a reduction in traffic growth in its net zero plans, instead based on changes in technology such as the transition to electric cars.

It has said: “The Government has recognized the need to limit traffic growth, shift journeys to public transport and active travel, but action is now required to ensure this. The government has made a relatively high-risk choice to rely heavily on technology to achieve its goals, with much less focus on efficiency improvements and economy-wide demand management. This is a narrow approach that could lead the UK down a more expensive path to net zero, with higher risks of failure and energy uncertainty.”

A DfT spokesperson declined to reveal its figures to the Guardian, saying: “The department has a clear plan to reach net zero, as set out in last year’s transport decarbonisation plan. This sets out an ambitious and credible path to reduce transport emissions, including through electric vehicles, and increase the use of public transport and active travel.”

Chris Todd, the director of the Transport Action Network, said: “These predictions will be used to undermine the business case for rail, bus, walking and cycling investment. We need politicians to stop pretending we can have our cake and eat it and accept the reality that spending on new roads ends up making things worse.”

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