Fuelling the UK’s love of cars: what does the future hold?
A quarter of Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions currently come from transport – the single biggest source of air pollution in the UK – and a significant proportion of those emissions are produced by the 32 million petrol and diesel cars on our roads. Reducing the emissions that are harmful to the planet and people is of paramount importance for the government.
The UK’s desire to remain at the forefront of tackling climate change was evidenced with the launch of its Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) published last autumn and described as ‘an ambitious blueprint for Britain’s low carbon future’. While the 2008 Climate Change Act had committed to reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050, the CGS set out detailed proposals across the whole of the economy and the whole of the country including business, housing, power, the natural environment and – pertinently – transport.
The main headline, and one of the most ambitious targets within the CGS, was the ambition to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040. That might seem like a long way off but, given that it takes approximately 15 years to fully turn over the stock of cars and vans on UK roads, that 22-year time frame begins to look tight. In addition, of the 657,000 vehicles registered in the last few months of 2017, just 130,000 were electric and plug-in hybrid cars. On today’s evidence, the change required won’t be met by the market alone.
Influential stakeholders are sceptical. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recently pointed out that there is no firm plan of action in the strategy that details how the phasing out will happen. The CCC itself has suggested that the government should end the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles earlier – by 2035 – and should also look to achieve a high uptake of very low emission cars by 2030. Meeting these targets could, it argues, give the government a real chance of achieving its own emissions reduction target, but the government has yet to respond to the CCC’s proposed deadlines.
And it’s not just the CCC that is alarmed by the lack of a focused plan from government. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the representative body for the UK motor industry, has warned that the ‘demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles is growing but still at a very low level as consumer have concern over affordability, range and charging points’. The Government’s desire to achieve such bold targets so quickly may be admirable, but is it achievable?