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Government clean air move sees ban on new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040

Government clean air move sees ban on new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040

The government’s plan to “end the sale of all new conventional petrol and diesel cars” by 2040 grabbed the national media headlines when it published its UK Plan for Tackling Roadside Nitrogen Dioxide Concentrations’, but the policy, in reality, is far from new.  

In fact the government effectively first announced the measure in 2011 - making the UK the first country to make the leap - when it said it was “our intention that conventional car and van sales would end by 2040, and for almost every car and van on the road to be a zero emission vehicle by 2050”.

It is understood that hybrid vehicles will be excluded from the ban, while Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturer5s and Traders, said: “We could undermine the UK’s successful automotive sector if we don’t allow enough time for the industry to adjust.”

The Vehicle Remarketing Association (VRA) responded to the government’s proposals to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel car and vans from 2040 by saying that in the “short to medium term instability in the used market was “highly unlikely”. It said that the deadline was far enough away that its “strongest effects will not be felt for some considerable time”.

VRA chairman Glenn Sturley said: “It is highly unlikely that this announcement will have any kind of immediate effect on the market for used petrol and diesel vehicles, especially those that meet the newer, cleaner Euro5 and Euro6 emissions standards.

However, Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers’ Association, said: “The warning issued by the National Grid earlier this month that there would be insufficient electricity capacity to refuel electric vehicles if there was a sustained surge in demand, must be taken into account by government in their strategic planning for energy resilience.

“In the longer term, the Treasury stand to lose up to £20 billion of fuel duty and VAT tax income every year if retail sales of petrol and diesel evaporate. What are their plans for replacing this significant contributor to the national budget? Are electric vehicles suddenly going to bear the brunt of the shortfall?”  

France has also announced similar plans to phase out petrol and diesel cars from 2040; Norway plans to ban the sale of all fossil fuel-based cars by 2025; and Volvo recently said that every car it launched from 2019 would have an electric motor, marking the historic end of models that had only an internal combustion engine and placing electrification at the core of its future business. 

Meanwhile, in recent years the government has ploughed hundreds of millions of pounds into supporting the uptake of ultra-low emission and plug-in vehicles among fleets and consumers. What’s more, in addition to measures already underway the government says it is developing further initiatives and will set them out in:           
  • The Clean Growth Plan which the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will bring forward in the autumn. It will gather views on measures to support motorists, residents and businesses affected by local plans - such as retrofitting, subsidised car club memberships, exemptions from any vehicles restrictions, or a targeted scrappage scheme for car and van drivers.      
  • A further strategy on the pathway to zero emission transport for all road vehicles to be published by March 2018.           
  • A wider Clean Air Strategy in 2018 setting out how it will meet the UK’s international commitments to significantly reduce emissions of five damaging air pollutants by 2020, and 2030.  

However, in publishing its “UK Plan for Tackling Roadside Nitrogen Dioxide Concentrations”, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department for Transport focused on road transport emissions.

In May DEFRA and the Department for Transport published the government’s draft Air Quality Plan. But, in a long-running legal battle, the High Court ordered it publish the official plan by 31 July. By appearing to only address “roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations” the plan seems to fall short of what was expected to be published and aimed at tackling breaches of air quality standards in towns and cities nationwide.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “[The] plan sets out how we will work with local authorities to tackle the effects of roadside pollution caused by dirty diesels, in particular nitrogen dioxide.  

“This is one element of the government’s £3 billion programme to clean up the air and reduce vehicle emissions.  

“Improving air quality is about more than just transport, so next year we will publish a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy. This will set out how we will address all forms of air pollution, delivering clean air for the whole country.”  

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “We are determined to deliver a green revolution in transport and reduce pollution in our towns and cities.  

“We are taking bold action and want nearly every car and van on UK roads to be zero emission by 2050 which is why we’ve committed to investing more than £600 million in the development, manufacture and use of ultra-low emission vehicles by 2020.  

“We are also putting forward proposals for van drivers to have the right to use heavier vehicles if they are electric or gas-powered, making it easier for businesses to opt for cleaner commercial vehicles.”  

Internal combustion engine vehicles, and particularly diesels, are widely blamed for poor air quality standards and the government acknowledges that the 2040 ban “will not happen quickly enough” so more must be done.  

The document says: “We therefore have a clear ambition and policy agenda to improve air quality, backed up with significant investment.”  

Nevertheless, it points out that: “Air quality has improved significantly in recent decades. Since 1970 sulphur dioxide emissions have decreased by 95%, particulate matter by 73%, and nitrogen oxides by 69%. Total UK emissions of nitrogen oxides fell by a further 19% between 2010 and 2015.”  

The government is forecasting that by 2021 “fewer than 100 major roads”, mostly in towns and cities, will continue to have air pollution problems.  

The government wants local authorities, with the help of a £255 million cash handout, to take the lead and clean up those ‘hot spots’, although it will set a clear national framework.  

A wide variety of measures are proposed for the named 29 local council with the worst air quality to consider including: changing road layouts to solve congestion, encouraging public and private uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles; using innovative retrofitting technologies and new fuels; and, encouraging the use of public transport. If those measures are insufficient, the government says “charging zones or measures to prevent certain vehicles using particular roads at particular times” could be considered.

Cars and vans that meet Euro6 diesel or Euro4 petrol emission standards would be exempt from any charge as would full electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.  

The government wants local authorities to set out initial plans by the end of March 2018 and follow those up with final plans by the end of December 2018. Final approval of the plans rest with the government.  

The government document says: “Our evidence suggests that exceedances in NO2 are highly localised - limited, for the most part, to a few problem roads rather than an entire town or city centre. The plans put forward by local authorities should reflect this, ensuring that measures are carefully targeted to minimise their impact on local residents and businesses.”

The government says it will work with local authorities and others to consider how to help minimise the impact of measures on local businesses, residents and those travelling into towns and cities to work where such action is necessary; and will issue a further consultation in autumn to aid development and assessment of options.

That consultation will include an analysis looking at the viability of a scrappage scheme focussing on “certain groups of drivers who most need support (such as those on lower incomes or those living in the immediate vicinity of a Clean Air Zone) and providing an incentive to switch to a cleaner vehicle”.  

Five cities - Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton - are already required to introduce Clean Air Zones under the government’s 2015 UK Air Quality Plan. Additionally local authorities in Greater Manchester and in Bristol and South Gloucestershire have secured Air Quality Grant funding to develop Clean Air Zone proposals.  

The government says it will work closely with those local authorities with a view to them finalising detailed proposals covering entry and charging criteria to the Clean Air Zones within 18 months for introduction in 2020 or sooner if possible.  

In a bid to answer criticism that the plug-in vehicle recharging infrastructure is inadequate, the government says Highways England will support the uptake of electric cars and vans by working to ensure that 95% of the major road network it manages will have a chargepoint every 20 miles and that where possible, they will be rapid chargepoints.  

Furthermore, the government will later this year publish new vehicle buying standards that will “set down minimum mandatory and best practice standards requirements for cars, vans, buses and trucks”. The new standard will “encourage procurers to choose ultra-low emission vehicles where appropriate”.  

The government also planning to:         
  • Change regulations within 12 months, subject to consultation, to support the take up of alternatively-fuelled light commercial vehicles (see below) 
  • Explore the future tax treatment of diesel vehicles, an announcement is expected in the Autumn Budget  

The ‘UK Plan for Tackling Roadside Nitrogen Dioxide Concentrations’ is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/633022/air-quality-plan-detail.pdf