The Carbon Cost of the Western Link

Blog post by Dr Andrew Boswell, Independent Scientist and Consultant at Norwich-based Climate Emergency Planning on 06 Sep, 2022
We are in the middle of a climate and nature emergency, and the two are inextricably linked. Climate change is driving nature’s decline and the loss of wild spaces is leaving us ill-equipped to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to change.  

The fate of Norfolk’s wildlife relies on meeting the legally binding UK climate change targets, which require steep reductions in carbon emissions in the next decade consistent with the Paris agreement.  

Taken together with the other A47 road schemes being built at the same time, the Norwich Western Link will increase carbon emissions and exceed planned carbon budgets both nationally and in Norfolk, in the decade when the UN says we must halve carbon emissions globally. 

If the construction of the Norwich Western Link starts in 2024, there would be two major impacts, both acting against making the necessary cuts in carbon emissions.   

Impact 1 - Construction 

Plans for the Norwich Western Link include building a 700m viaduct that has a heavy carbon burden from embedded emissions from steel and cement production.   

Construction would also destroy carbon rich woodlands and landscapes releasing the carbon that is stored in the natural assets found in the area, such as soil, trees and plants. 

The Council have recently estimated that the carbon cost of building the road would be around 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Taken together with construction of other roads schemes around Norwich in the years 2024 and 2025, this adds up to 250,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, and would use 7% of the carbon budgets in the Norfolk Local Transport Plan for those years.  Unless 7% of traffic was removed from Norfolk’s roads elsewhere, Norfolk would not meet its carbon reduction targets, and this would have a very significant adverse effect on the UK meeting its carbon budgets too. 

Impact 2 - Vehicle exhausts 

Once opened, the use of the Norwich Western Link will continually generate carbon dioxide from vehicle exhausts. Government policy to decarbonise road traffic mostly depends on electrification of the entire car, van and HGV fleets. This will take until 2040 and beyond, and in the interim period, expanding road capacity and vehicle journeys will keep generating new emissions drastically in excess of the UK carbon budgets.   

The Council’s own traffic modelling shows that carbon emissions in the study area from use of the road will not reduce in line with Government projections in the Net Zero Strategy and local projections in the Local Transport Plan.   

Even if the Norwich Western Link makes small reductions of carbon emissions from vehicle exhausts in isolation, these are totally insufficient to meet the emissions reduction targets in these national and local plans.   

Helping our wildlife adapt to climate change 

We are in a climate and ecological emergency, and connected spaces for wildlife are vital for species to move through the landscape as they adapt to global heating and the rapidly changing climate. The Government has made a target to halt 'the decline in our wildlife populations' by 2042 in the Environment Act, and we need to ensure that the current rate of wildlife decline is not made worse by schemes like the Norwich Western Link.   

Protecting landscapes and ecology in the Wensum valley is crucial to help achieve this aim. 

If you’d like to find out more about the Norwich Western Link and how you can take action to support wildlife from this development, please visit 
Norfolk Wildlife Trust is part of a collective of environmental organisations including Stop the Wensum LinkCPREFriends of the Earth, the Woodland TrustNorfolk Rivers Trust and Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society, all of whom oppose the development on the grounds of the unacceptable impact it will have on wildlife and the wider natural landscape. 
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