Highways England launches net zero roadmap

‘Immediate and sustained action’ will be taken to decarbonise motorways and A-roads, Highways England has said, putting roads ‘at the heart of the low carbon economy’.

The government agency’s ‘Roadmap to net zero by 2050’ pledges to achieve net zero for its own operations by 2030. Its direct emissions from 2017/18 should be cut by three quarters as early as 2025, it says, through actions such as switching to green electricity tariffs, replacing highway lighting with LEDs, planting millions of trees, and moving its fleet to hybrid or fully electrified models.

Highways England also plans to expand renewable electricity production, aiming to generate 10% of its consumption from its own sites by the end of the decade.

But as one of the UK’s largest buyers of construction materials, the body also has a substantial impact across its supply chain, which forms “a significant opportunity to catalyse Britain’s construction industry to deliver the Committee on Climate Change’s call for the construction industry to be largely decarbonised by 2040”, says the plan. A carbon management system will be put into action, focused in particular on asphalt, cement and steel consumption.

Maintenance and construction work produced greenhouse gas emissions estimated at 734,000 tonnes of CO2, or about 0.18% of the UK’s as a whole. Without further action, these are projected to fall by more than half by 2040, though this will not be at all sufficient to reach net zero by Highways England’s 2040 objective. Ahead of that, all construction plant and compounds will be zero-carbon by 2030, with a ‘near zero construction roadmap’ due next year. Guidance on contracts and design will also have net zero elements inserted.

Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association said: “How we build and maintain our roads naturally plays a key role in meeting net zero goals. Roads form a critical backbone of the UK economy, supporting not just our personal journeys, but contributing substantially to economic growth. As an industry we must… understand where it’s going and always challenge our thinking, in order to deliver sustainable infrastructure for the long term.”

In the longer term, Highways England will support the overall 2050 net zero goal by working on reducing empty lorry movements, trials for decarbonising HGVs and publishing plans for improving public transport on the strategic road network, and for electric vehicle charging services and energy storage, by 2023. An investment plan for HGV charging will be in place by 2028.

The agency said that the plan builds on existing progress, with 95% of the network already within 20 miles of an electric charging point, and with LED lighting installed on the M62 motorway, for example. Highways England is also the UK’s biggest builder of cycleways, having completed 150 routes over the past five years.

Its acting chief executive Nick Harris said that the organisation, “recognises the threat of climate change and the risks it poses for us all. That’s why we’re pledging to take effective action to take carbon out of roads. Today roads are a convenient, efficient and low-cost way to travel which is why 9 out of 10 passenger miles and 79 per cent of all freight moves on roads. Our plans set out how emissions from our own operations, our construction and our customers will reduce over the coming years. It will put roads at the heart of the low carbon economy, while preserving the convenience and economic benefit of an efficient road network.”

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