Government plans for a multi-billion pound road building program would breach UK legal commitments to tackle the climate crisis and critically undermine the country’s position ahead of a key summit later this year, said the High Court.

Lawyers for the Transport Action Network (TAN) have argued that plans for the UK’s huge £27billion road building program – set out in its Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2) year last – did not take into account the government’s obligations to achieve net zero emissions. by 2050 or its commitments under the Paris climate agreement.

Campaigners accuse Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and the Department for Transport of unlawfully failing to consider the road scheme’s ‘obviously significant’ impact on the UK’s climate commitments.

Ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, Chris Todd, director of TAN, described the proceedings as “the biggest legal challenge to transport policy in British history”.

“If we are serious about addressing the climate emergency, improving quality of life after the pandemic and providing a less congested future, we must reduce traffic…A decision to cancel the largest road program ever would be historic, not only for the UK, but for communities around the world looking to build back better as COP26 approaches. »

David Wolfe QC, for TAN, said: ‘Unless and until all road vehicles, their manufacture and maintenance, the energy generated to propel them… are all zero emissions… an increase in road traffic means an increase in greenhouse gas emissions… The Secretary of State had to address this. He couldn’t just ignore her like he did.

But the government disputes the claim. John Litton QC, for the DfT, said the government had “considered the environment fully when defining RIS2, including impacts related to climate change… and carbon emissions in particular, in line with the responsibilities of the government on climate change.

He said there was no commitment to achieve ‘zero carbon’ in all sectors of the economy, saying some parts would still emit carbon but would be offset by ‘sinks’ like planting trees or, currently unproven, carbon capture technology.

“The objective is not to seek zero emissions in all sectors but to achieve a balance between emissions and sinks,” he added.

The road building program would lead to thousands of miles of new roads across the country in the coming years, which campaigners say will wreak havoc on the UK’s beleaguered wildlife, worsen pollution of the air and block a high-carbon transportation network for decades to come.

If it goes ahead, plans include at least 50 projects, from a tunnel on the A303 near Stonehenge to a Lower Thames Crossing linking Kent and Essex.

The UK government has been widely criticized for failing to draw up detailed plans on how it will achieve its climate targets. Last week, the Climate Change Committee said progress had been ‘illusory’, adding that ‘investment in roads should be made conditional on analysis justifying how it contributes to the UK’s climate change trajectory. net zero”.

Experts say the UK’s road network and wider transport infrastructure are crucial in the country’s efforts to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis. The transport sector is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases and the only one to have increased its emissions in recent years.

Earlier this month the Welsh Government announced a freeze on its future road building as part of its plans to tackle the climate emergency

The High Court case is due to conclude on Wednesday and judgment is expected at a later date.

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