2007 - 2021

COP 26 and the Interim Union Connectivity Review

As Miriam Brett and Katie Gallogly-Swan remind us: “In February 2021, the United Nations released an analysis showing that countries are collectively making miniscule progress towards cutting emissions. It found that if countries’ current pledges were fulfilled, global emissions would reduce by only one per cent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels when we need a 45 per cent reduction to keep heating below 1.5C.”

That’s disastrous on an unimaginable scale.

To put this in perspective the global lockdowns last year saw emissions fall by the largest ever: 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. To remain within the Paris 2C temperature target we need emissions to fall between 1-2 billion tonnes *every year* for the next decade.

So our (inadequate) lockdown gains are going to be thrown away.

So what are the UK government doing in this year of COP 26 being held (possibly) in Glasgow in November?

Well David Mundell and others are focusing on expanding roads in a nakedly opportunist attempt to undermine devolution.

Mundell is claiming: “The Interim Union Connectivity Review is right to focus on the urgent need to dual the A75.” The sharp-eyed reader will notice it’s not just the Holyrood election that has started it’s the Referendum that Will Never Happen too.

It’s road and planes too.

Treasury Minister Jesse Norman has hinted that air passenger duty could be slashed on domestic flights so ‘Brits’ are encouraged to catch a plane within the UK. So if you fancy popping down to Manchester for some shopping you can!

Carbon Brief reports: “UK prime minister Boris Johnson intends to authorise a cut in air passenger duty, a levy paid by airlines for domestic flights, to provide the industry with a boost after the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Financial Times. The proposal will form part of a wider “union connectivity review” of national transport links which will also include funding for train lines and motorways.”

Stating the obvious Doug Parr from Greenpeace UK described the plan as “nonsensical”, saying: “The government needs to face up to the unavoidable reality that the aviation industry has to be smaller than it was before the pandemic.“

People can’t imagine flying less – or not at all – and the alternatives are expensive or non-existent.

There’s no zero-carbon route out of Scotland. In fact there’s virtually no non-aviation connectivity to Europe at all.

The idea of cheap flights has become a sort of panacea for late capitalism. People are given rewards for drudgery, and one of the principle ones is fun in the sun. To point this out is to be labelled a dreary ecologist.

Union Highways

The Connectivity Craze has taken hold in Wales too.

There Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies has proposed ‘Union Highways’ to ‘extinguish dangerous flame’ of Welsh independence.

In an article for ConserativeHome he recommends “large scale projects” to “unblock” the M4, A40 and A55 east-west routes into Wales and tie the country closer to the rest of the UK.

It’s all a bit Casey Jones meets Adam Ant. The intrepid Davies is quoted saying:

“The patriotic fightback has started and, as the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, these are some of the steps I want to see us take to extinguish the dangerous flame of separatism.”

Later he added: “It’s important UK government spending is effectively targeted and given the PM’s ambition for large-scale projects, I’d like to see the designation of ‘Union Highways’ that would unblock Wales’s arterial routes on the M4, A40 and A55 and boost important cross-border growth.”

So far so General Wade. Build roads through enemy territory and make the natives grateful.

As John McTernan last month advised subtly: “The union flag in Scotland should be stuck on every piece of government spending”.  “We love bomb them or we go to war with them”.

This thing about “large-scale” projects is important.

Road to Nowhere

But the pièce de résistance of bungling Unionist carbon-heavy opportunism must be the ‘Scotland-Northern Ireland’ bridge project.

The project was dreamed up by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in its 2015 general election manifesto and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has jumped on it.

It seems very very heavy on “ambition” and very very low on facts. It could be a bridge, it could be a tunnel, nobody really knows. Nobody really seems to know why it would be embarked on or what it would achieve but a feasibility study is being proposed despite opposition from – you know – the governments of Northern Ireland and Scotland, to which transport is a devolved matter.

SDLP MP Colum Eastwood says Boris Johnson’s “fantasy bridge” to Northern Ireland could cost £33bn “while our road and rail networks have been decimated from decades of under investment”.

The concept is redolent of Gigantic projects dreamed up by authoritarian leaders to project their grandiose self-belief, but there are problems.

I first wrote about Beaufort’s Dyke back in 1999.

Beaufort’s Dyke is a deep trench 5okm long, 5km wide and about 250 meters deep on the sea-bed between Northern Ireland and Scotland, where an estimated 1.17 million tonnes of conventional and chemical weapons were dumped between the 1920s and 1976, along with a further 2 tonnes of radioactive waste.Among the munitions which have been washed up are around 4,500 phosphorous incendiaries and 7000 antitank grenades,

It’s been estimated that there have been around 450 unexplained explosions in the area over the past decades.

After flares and munitions were washed ashore on the Ayrshire coast in 1995, the Scottish office were eventually forced to admit that two tonnes of contaminated radioactive waste were secretly dropped into the Second World War dump during the 1950s and 1960s.

Along with the Depleted Uranium fired into the Solway Firth, Beaufort’s Dyke constitutes a significant contribution to the Toxic Legacy of the British State.

Ploughing a tunnel (or a bridge) through this for no discernible reason is one of the craziest ideas I’ve ever heard, and seem to include a giant roundabout under the Isle of Man.

All of which makes the bridge/tunnel thing just a wee bit far-fetched, to be generous, even if it didn’t all just represent a 20-30 billion investment in massive road-building during our climate crisis – remember that?)

New Coal for the COP

Even where we’ve made progress we’re regressing.

It’s not just in transport that the UK govt is putting political opportunism before carbon and climate crisis. It’s not just that the UK govt is investing massively in roads and encouraging people to fly more not less and it’s not just that it’s doing all this to undermine devolved elected governments, it’s worse than that.

Back in 2016, on 9 May, Great Britain’s electricity system ran without coal-fired power stations for the first time since 1882. That was a historic moment and surely the time when Britain would end coal forever and move forward seriously with the climate emergency. Just under a year later, the grid ran coal-free for a full 24-hour period that ended on 21 April 2017.

But this year, this year of COP 26, the British government have approved a new coal plant in Cumbria, a move condemned around the world as disastrous and “humiliating”.

Chris Whiteside – Deputy chairman of North West England region of the Conservative party (writing on Conservative Home in favour of the project) went so far as to suggest the new coal plant was somehow payback for the Miner’s Strike and somehow ‘green’ (follow the logic) because it would make coke that would make steel that would make wind turbines.

In the year of the COP 26 Britain is failing to show leadership in carbon reduction. But it is not doing so because it can’t or because it can’t take the general public along with it. It is failing because it is using tricks and high-carbon intensive projects to prop up its failing Union. The Interim Union Connectivity Review is blatant propaganda which purports to bring us all together, but all it is doing is driving us further away from our climate goals and a viable future.

 

Comments (25)

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  1. Alisdair McNicol says:

    The High Speed Rail Group’s report on improving connections to Scotland includes a reference to a possible rail tunnel at page 23
    https://www.rail-leaders.com/wp-content/uploads/High-Speed-Rail-and-Scotland.pdf
    This report makes the case for high speed rail as a means of reducing net carbon.
    It suggests a new railway from Carlisle to Stranraer (not rebuilding the old one) would be necessary to link to a rail tunnel, as opposed to dualling the A75 road.
    All a tad optimistic with the government we have in Westminster, but let’s see what Hendy actually has to say when his report is published?
    (They do know about Beaufort’s Dyke!)

    1. I know they know about Beauforts Dyke – I dont actually believe any of this will happen at all.

  2. Kenny Fisher says:

    I am a regular BC reader and this is my first comment, I agree on everything you say about the Westminster government focusing on headline grabbing capital projects as Union securing bulwarks against those they perceive as separatists and they will be only to eager to follow that path rather than fulfil and honour their loftily announced commitment to carbon reduction.

    The concept of a sub sea tunnel linking Scotland and Northern Ireland is lunacy, BoJo and team know it, however it suits the narrative of strengthening the Union and for now that’s all that matters to the Westminster government, I’ve read that the proposed rout of any tunnel would be north of the Beaufort dyke trench to avoid the munitions dump area, however that success of that notion is predicated upon the munitions being where they are recorded as being dumped, there is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that large amounts of the munitions were dumped out with the designated area, and the accuracy of the admiralty chart dump zone coordinates cannot be relied upon.

    In addition to the high explosive ammunition dumped many thousands of tons of both phosgene and mustard gas shells from WW1 stocks were also dumped.

    As I recall the flares washed ashore on South Ayrshire beaches were confirmed to be from the area of the Beaufort dyke dump and it was suggested that the laying of a gas interconnection between South West Scotland and NI by Transco was the cause, the sub sea gas pipe laying activity having disturbed the dumped pyrotechnics.

    The risks of carrying out any sub sea works in the vicinity of Beauforts Dyke has previously deterred the UK authorities, I refer to the incident in the late 1960’s when a Royal Canadian Airforce CF 104 Starfighter, which had been in for maintenance at Scottish Aviation at Prestwick was lost during a high speed post maintenance test flight over the Irish Sea, the pilot was lost with the aircraft and both The RCAF and NATO were very keen to find the wreckage as the F/CF104 was a front line interceptor with many NATO airforces and its avionics were advanced (for the day) and deemed secret however the risk of salvage work in the Beaufort dyke trench area was considered too great to allow deep sea salvage.

    The idea of a bridge is on another scale altogether of madness !

    1. Thanks Kenny – and thanks for your first comment. “As I recall the flares washed ashore on South Ayrshire beaches were confirmed to be from the area of the Beaufort dyke dump and it was suggested that the laying of a gas interconnection between South West Scotland and NI by Transco was the cause”. Yes this is right.

  3. I Wright says:

    I think the bridge/tunnel project, being in Scotland and Northern Ireland might at least partly be to counter the fact that the UK government are building an England-only high-speed rail network at massive cost.

  4. James Mills says:

    If the money given to Dido Harding for her Test and Trace venture ( £35billion ? ) was spent on , oh let’s say something that actually worked , then people may have some faith in Boris Johnson’s ideas of a Bridge to Nowhere or a Tunnel of ( Union ) love .
    As it is , this is more fantasy from The King of the World !

  5. Niemand says:

    Why not make is a garden tunnel / bridge? Johnson did great on the last one.

  6. J Galt says:

    The new railway line from Portpatrick to Carlisle would probably cost £33bn on it’s own.

    Motorways from Portpatrick to the M74 and M77 – say another £20-30bn or so?

    Then there is the problem of the Northern Irish railways – they would have to be re-gauged from Irish (5ft 3ins) to standard gauge (4ft 8 1/2ins), not only that but the Northern Irish rail “network” hardly merits the name, having been subject to a closure programme in the 1950/60s that was far more drastic than anything that Beeching dared propose. So, for the tunnel to work, a virtual rebuilding of Northern Ireland’s railways – say £30bn or so?

    So thats around £100bn before you even start the tunnel – say another £100-200bn?

    It is fantasy of course and everyone involved knows that it is fantasy. It is only a political ploy, but a political ploy that is going to cost £millions as money is thrown at consultants as part of the theatre. However if we’re going to spend “£35bn” on a “test and trace” system that probably consists of a cheap call centre shed in Wolverhampton housing a couple of hundred, thumb twiddling minimum wagers with the rest trousered by Serco for doing effectively fuck all, should we be surprised at that.

  7. Pub Bore says:

    I’d go for a series of shorter roads, bridges, and tunnels, linking Glasgow and Belfast via Gourock, the peninsulas of Argyll and Bute, and Torr Head. As well as leaving Beaufort’s Dyke undisturbed, this would make the peninsulas more accessible to economic development too.

    However, I suppose the bottom line is whether the economic benefits of such an ambitious transport link to the people of the British Isles would offset the huge costs that would be involved in realising it.

    1. J Galt says:

      Apart from despoiling Cowal, Bute and Kintyre what would that achieve?

      A large proportion of the current North Channel ferry traffic is largely commercial, heading from and to the big distribution centres in the Midlands of England.

      A meandering route via Kintyre to Glasgow would be of no interest to them and the existing ferries would continue to operate with little, if any diminution in traffic.

      1. Pub Bore says:

        As I said, the bottom line is whether the economic benefits of such an ambitious transport link to the people of the British Isles would offset the huge costs that would be involved in realising it. You clearly don’t think they would.

        1. Pub Bore says:

          And as I said, extending the M8 to Belfast would achieve a crossing that avoided Beaufort’s Dyke and make the peninsulas more accessible to local economic development. The construction itself would also create long-term employment and auxiliary business opportunities; in fact, an infrastructure project on such an unprecedented scale could be the remaking of the Scottish economy.

          But, you’re right: such an imaginative remaking might not be a worthwhile investment; the costs might well outweigh the benefits.

          1. J Galt says:

            Can you imagine the tsunami of environmental protest that would be unleashed by attempting to smash a four lane motorway through the outstanding landscape of Argyll and Bute?

            And quite rightly too.

            There have been two attempts to establish a ferry service from Kintyre to Northern Ireland – both of which ended in failure, however it is in the relatively environmentally friendly ferry industry we should be investing in.

            Large goods vehicles heading for the Midlands of England from NI should be encouraged to use the ferry link from Belfast to Merseyside thus cutting the time they are on the road by around 70% or more, rather than thundering through rural Galloway. Indeed many are already doing this as the growth in ferry traffic between these places has resulted in two huge new ferries being introduced this past year. Not only that but Stena and Seatruck from Belfast and Warrenpoint respectively to Heysham in Lancashire also carry large volumes of freight vehicles. Relative to this the North Channel routes are stagnating.

          2. Pub Bore says:

            Yes, I can imagine; bourgeois romanticism is not dead and the Victorian construction of ‘the outstanding landscape of Argyll and Bute’ is still sacrosanct. ‘For these are my mountains,’ and all that.

            The violence done to the empty landscapes of Sir Walter’s picturesque ‘Scottland’ would, of course, be an entry on the ‘cost’ side of the equation. The repopulation of the peninsulas would be an entry on the ‘benefit’ side.

            Roads, bridges, and tunnels trump ferries any day. Look at Fife, look at Skye and the Black Isle, look at the Pas de Calais… Para Handy, my *rs*!

            Like Denmark, Scotland is predominantly made up of islands; like Denmark, the construction of a network of bridges and tunnels connecting them together, as well as to its nearest overseas neighbour, would help unify the territory as a nation and remake that nation’s economy.

            Let’s have a wee bit of ambition!

  8. Robbie says:

    It’s all just a load of CRAP ,that’s why Boris the Bungler is in no10, they are all saving face while getting the fucking idiot do the dirty work for them ,rubbing their hands with glee,it will NEVER change so Scotland ,lets just get out of this so called Union of Equals or forever hold our to tongues.

  9. Jonathan says:

    Down here in North Lancashire, one of Bojo’s ultra loyal Tory backbenchers, David Morris thinks it’s a great idea and Heysham in his constituency could be part of a great link road!

    Morris wants to build a tunnel connecting Barrow in Furness to Heysham ..! Idiot, the sands are treacherous, lethal and shifting, likely to prove a hazard to the Isle of Man ferry.

    There is no economic or pressing social case for link roads across the Irish Sea, just pie in the sky ideas to keep Scottish Tories and Unionists quiet.

    How about improving the rail link between Carlisle/Dumfries and Stranraer? Far cheaper, greener and quicker..but rail doesn’t excite the Tory, unless it comes with hoardes of wheelbarrows of taxpayer cash .

    Morris is one of the worst of all Tories, parts of his constituency, have some of the worst poverty in the whole of the UK, all Morris does is report the local Food Bank to the Charity Commission for ‘political activities’, which he knows is bull, it’s a way of shutting up your critics. Also in parts of his constituency, especially the most deprived, the roads are so potholed, they are a serious hazard to road users especially cyclists.

    The Tories couldn’t give two hoots about Scotland or the North of England, HS2 is a White Elephant that will do more to worsen the Levelling Down (sorry Up!) Agenda.
    I am always baffled why South Scotland and Cumbria vote for charlatans like Murrell and Morris?

    1. Pub Bore says:

      I presume you mean Mundell.

      I suspect that the people of the Southlands tend not to vote SNP because we have traditionally felt more detached or ‘apart’ from the Embrocentric Scottish nation – more independently minded. Indeed, some of us ‘good ole boys’ would like to see the march countries secede so we could run our own affairs.

      1. Alec Lomax says:

        March counties become in effect north English? Best of luck with that.

        1. Pub Bore says:

          And why would independence make us, in effect, ‘north English’?

  10. Roland says:

    Argyll would hugely benefit from better connectivity and then maybe the incessant depopulation would reverse. Also think that if ‘we’ had set out in 1980s to build a TGV rail system the length and breadth of Britain then Britain would now look very different- economically and politically

    1. Pub Bore says:

      Spot on, Roland!

    2. Craig P says:

      What cost I wonder for a Rest and Be Thankful tunnel?

      1. Pub Bore says:

        Certainly a lot less than the cost extending the M8 across the peninsulas and the North Channel to Belfast, but the benefit would be a lot less too.

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