High-speed trains ‘not the answer’ for cutting emissions

Heavy investment in high-speed train networks is not a viable strategy for fighting climate change and could place an excessively heavy burden on taxpayers, a report by a Swedish expert group has found.

The report, published by the Expert Group for Environmental Studies, an independent state body under the auspices of the Swedish Department of Finance, argues that a “political consensus has emerged that investing in high-speed railways can contribute to economic growth and reduced carbon emissions”. 

However, following a lengthy quantitative investigation, the authors have concluded that in reality, the carbon-reducing impact of these networks is minimal, and should not be sold to EU citizens as a realistic ‘green’ policy. 

Speaking to EURACTIV, expert group representative Björn Carlén explained that while the report’s recommendations concern Sweden only, “the conclusions are equally applicable to other EU countries where similar investment strategies exist”. 

In many member states where high-speed networks are under consideration, their green credentials are a key selling point during the decision-making process, a fact Carlén bemoans as misleading. “The motivations behind these investments can be for a number of positive reasons, but reduced carbon emissions should not be one of them,” he said. 

Instead, the report argues that investments and resources should be diverted towards successful carbon trading schemes, where the “reductions in emissions would be far greater, and at a significantly lower cost”. 

Sweden’s EU climate strategy: No details yet 

It remains to be seen how this report may influence the Swedish government’s policy planning at either the domestic or EU level. As current chair of the rotating EU presidency, Sweden – with its well-founded reputation as a world leader in “climate politics” – is expected to push hard for a coherent EU voice at this December’s global summit on climate change in Copenhagen. 

However, Carlén is quick to point out that, as yet, Sweden’s negotiations in the build-up to Copenhagen have focused on the “level of ambition” the 27-member bloc will demonstrate in its approach, and “less on the specifics” of an EU-wide agreement. 

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