Although the Coronavirus crisis has been dominating the headlines, environmental challenges have not gone away. The warm weather that is lifting spirits is also leading scientists to predict that 2020 will be the hottest year on record. Indeed, after the lockdown had already started, the DfT launched a radical consultation to inform its Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP). Calling for less car use and making public transport the first choice for daily travel, it represents a huge change from decades of previous policy.

It is important for HS2 now to rise to this opportunity. In her most recent report, Sadie Morgan, the chair of HS2’s independent design panel, called for more evidence and communication on how net zero is driving HS2 Ltd’s decision-making, calling for action from board level to those working on site. Professor Morgan also sits on the National Infrastructure Commission, which is undertaking a Rail Needs Assessment for the Midlands and the North. Clearly making the carbon case will be important for securing approval for Phase 2b and beyond.

The big challenge here is how HS2’s carbon benefits, primarily from modal shift, are driven by wider DfT forecasts. As the decarbonisation consultation shows, transport has risen to become the largest emitting sector and current forecasts lead to the UK seriously overshooting legally binding climate budgets. Though some see uncertainty as a result of the pandemic, others see it as an opportunity to change travel patterns towards zero carbon options.

Our first foray into this area – the HS2 – Towards a Zero Carbon Future report explored HS2’s contribution to net zero on multiple levels. Our four objectives for this year are to:

  1. Deliver credible, evidenced advocacy including the case for HS2 in addressing the climate and ecological emergency
  2. Support leadership in the rail and construction sectors to increase their credibility and leadership around environmental agendas
  3. Disseminate, influence and lobby to ensure HS2’s environmental case is picked up and championed beyond the rail industry
  4. To continue to deliver on the ambitions and targets that HS2 Ltd has set and support their aim to build the most sustainable high speed railway in the world.

Although the United Nation’s 26th Climate Change Conference (COP26) climate summit has been delayed to 2021, HSRG recognises we cannot stand still on this important agenda. Indeed, this year the UK is still required to submit its “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDC), a plan setting out how signatory countries will meet their climate commitments. As the UK’s largest infrastructure project, we believe HS2’s transformational potential and the wider revolution in public transport it will unleash must be recognised in this.

In the run up to COP26, the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has called to make 2020 a year of climate action and set out key actions. This has been a helpful prompt to revisit our own activity and consider where it could be strengthened, which we have done in the table below.

CCC’s 2020 priorities:

‘Net Zero homework’

HSRG actions
Developing the skills needed in a net-zero economy Resource HSR Apprentice Network – themed podcast on net zero skills
Building up supply chains for new technologies HS2 – Towards a Zero Carbon Future report

Continue to gather supply chain stories and data from members

Sequencing infrastructure development Continue to advocate for HS2 phase 2b and wider HSR network

Engage sectors such as housebuilders and energy to explore HS2 role as catalyst

Engaging the public [to deliver] good, confident policy-making that businesses and consumers can rely on Events and publications

Twitter and LinkedIn

More open working and communications with wider stakeholders

Engagement at non-rail industry events

How UK actions can resonate beyond our borders HSRG submission on 6th Carbon Budget & COP26

Continue to building up networks & activity required pre COP26

Include in HSR Exports working group activities

Taking UK consumption footprint seriously, through: (i) demand-side measures &


HS2 – Towards a Zero Carbon Future report

Influencing Transport Decarbonisation Plan with policies to lock in modal shift to rail

(ii) life-cycle assessments Data from rolling stock manufacturers on footprint, also updates from construction sector

As businesses and governments grapple with how to approach climate change, projects like HS2 have a huge opportunity —and an immense responsibility—to make an impact. Within our membership there is certainly an increased awareness of the need for sustainable design and advancements in technology that make it easier and more affordable to operate with ever lower carbon emissions.

With exercise being one of the few permitted reasons to leave home, many people have taken comfort from nature. Going forward a second area of work for HSRG this year is understanding how rail investment can unlock more efficient use of land, leaving more space for nature.