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WYCA Projects Not Aligned with Decarbonisation Goals

Traffic jam
Traffic jam

Many of the projects in the investment pipeline of West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) are not sufficiently aligned with the Combined Authority’s decarbonisation goals, according to a newly-published report.

It is the WYCA Carbon Impact Assessment Summary Findings report, written by Mott Macdonald.

Climate Emergency

The report notes that WYCA made a formal declaration of a climate emergency in 2019 (p1). Now it wants to make sure it correctly assesses the carbon impact of its projects.

In future, WYCA should make sure that investments are aligned with the targets and goals in its Combined Authority Carbon Emission Reduction Pathways (CERP) (p26 of the report).

This means that by 2038:

  • private car travel should be reduced by 21%
  • walking should increase by 78%
  • cycling should increase by 2,000%

Current Approach

The report notes on p3 that WYCA’s current projects are not sufficiently aligned with its carbon reduction goals. It recommends that projects should be assessed for their carbon and other environmental impacts at an early stage.

WYCA graphic showing carbon assessments at Stages 1 & 2 of projects
WYCA graphic showing carbon assessments at Stages 1 & 2 of projects

The assessment of carbon impacts should be in units of greenhouse gases (GHG), not in monetised units as at present.

Currently, following DfT rules, only operational emissions are counted. Instead, all carbon emissions from proposed projects should be assessed, including those resulting from materials and building (capital or embodied carbon).

Induced Demand

Analysis of transport proposals doesn’t always account for induced demand. When driving is made more attractive more traffic is generated, increasing GHG emissions. Current models simply assume that existing traffic volumes flow more, and don’t take account of induced demand.

‘It is therefore recommended that assessment of carbon emissions from proposed transport investments should account for the impacts of this induced traffic…[and this] should be presented as a discrete element of the appraisal…’

P6 of the mott macdonald report on induced demand

Related to induced demand, the report notes that the carbon impact of unlocked housing development is not currently accounted for. Depending on the scale of the development, this may be highly significant in carbon terms (p19).

Recommended Approach

The report recommends assessing carbon impacts at Stage 1 and Stage 2 of projects.

Mott Macdonald have produced guidance and a toolkit for the Stage 1 assessment.

They have also developed Stage 2 guidance and toolkit, including instructions on how to quantify GHG, and a pro forma reporting template.

At Stage 2, there is an induced traffic assessment toolkit.

Refusal to Apply Recommended Approach to Current Projects

The major problem with the Mott Macdonald report is that it refuses to apply the recommended carbon impact assessment approach to current investment projects.

Although it assesses the carbon impact of current projects:

‘The primary objective of this exercise is to provide the Combined Authority with some indication of the carbon impact of proposals that are being developed within its investment programmes…It is expressly not the intention of these assessments to re-visit historic decisions or approvals within the assurance process in respect of specific proposals which have been developed under existing or previous guidance.’

p10 of the mott macdonald report on carbon assessment of existing wyca proposals

The huge problem with this is that “historic decisions” relate to projects which, in many cases, will only be completed years in the future.

WYCA’s carbon targets in its CERP are for 2030 and 2038. They don’t have time to lose, and a refusal to reassess current projects is tantamount to a declaration that they have no intention of meeting the carbon reduction goals in CERP.

Mott Macdonald assessed a selection of 41 projects.

Up to about 5 years ago, projects focused on capacity increases for motor vehicles (“congestion relief”). More recently, modal shift has come to the fore.

Overall, the projects are likely to increase carbon emissions by 200,000 tCO2e. The report says that set against total West Yorkshire emissions of 11.1 MtCO2e, that is an increase of 0.04%, and “therefore insignificant”.

On the other hand, if you compare them against WYCA’s CERP objectives, they are significantly adrift.

Active Travel Schemes

The active travel schemes tend to reduce operational GHG emissions, but using current modelling this reduction is outweighed by capital carbon costs in construction.

‘Looking forward, this minimal predicted impact on carbon from isolated interventions to encourage active travel is illustrative of the need for a broader shift in travel behaviour change, and consideration of the cumulative impacts of a variety of interventions and policy changes that encourage modal shift and increased levels of active travel.’

p15 of the mott macdonald report

Conclusions

The current investment programme has not been developed with the explicit intention of reducing the region’s carbon emissions (p25). Current projects have little impact on GHG emissions, but more action will be necessary in tackling the climate emergency.

In future, carbon impacts will have to be considered from an early stage. Projects should be aligned with CERP, which requires a 21% decrease in private car use by 2038.

‘[There is a need]…to invest in schemes which strongly promote active travel [and] disincentivise private car use…schemes which do not consider these types of interventions may not be compatible with the Combined Authority’s net zero target.’

p27 of the mott macdonald report

My conclusion is that overall this is a worthwhile report. Where it fails is in not treating the climate emergency as an emergency. “Historic decisions” relate to projects which have not yet begun construction, and which will have lasting impacts well beyond 2030 and 2038 – like the proposal to dual York Outer Ring Road.

WYCA Projects Not Aligned with Decarbonisation Goals

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