Ministers have been urged to bring forward their 2040 ban on new diesel and petrol car sales by a decade, a move which an environmental thinktank said would almost halve oil imports and largely close the gap in the UK’s climate targets.
The Green Alliance said a more ambitious deadline of 2030 is also needed to avoid the UK squandering its leadership on electric cars.
While the number of electric cars being sold in the UK has rocketed in the past four years, Germany overtook the UK last year in its rise in the registrations of new plug-in hybrids and 100% battery-powered cars. A 2030 ban on combustion engine models would boost sales of electrified cars in the UK and even raise the prospect of the country becoming an net vehicle exporter, the Green Alliance said.
While the UK lags behind Germany on conventional car manufacturing, a fifth of the electric cars sold in Europe in 2016 were made at Nissan’s Sunderland plant in north-east England. BMW has pledged to make its electric Mini at its plant in Oxford, but UK-headquartered Jaguar Land Rover chose to build its first flagship electric car, the i-Pace, in Austria.
Dustin Benton, policy director at Green Alliance, said: “The government’s recent industrial strategy cites clean growth as one of the biggest economic opportunities for the UK, but if we keep building and buying dirty cars we’ll miss the growth opportunity of the century.”
Carbon emissions from the average new car also rose last year for the first time in nearly two decades, as drivers opted for bigger models.
The Green Alliance found that an earlier phase-out for new diesels and petrol cars would affect the looming gap in the UK’s legally binding 2030 climate target. A 2030 deadline would cut the gap by 85%, or 98 million tonnes CO2e.
Sticking with a 2040 date would also lead to fossil-fuelled cars causing air pollution until the second half of the century, the thinktank said, given the average UK car is scrapped after 14 years. Four committees of MPs last week warned that air pollution is a “national health emergency” and called on the government to take tougher action.
Earlier action would also ease the UK’s reliance on oil imports at a time when oil and gas production from the North Sea is declining. Imports would be cut by nearly 50% by 2035, saving up to an estimated £6.63bn each year, the thinktank said.
While ministers last summer followed France by pledging to halt new petrol and diesel car sales by 2040, other countries are looking to ban them years earlier. Scotland is aiming for 2032, India wants to only sell electric models by 2030 and Norway, the world leader on the take-up of battery-powered cars, has set a 2025 deadline.
The Green Alliance said the government could take several other measures to sustain the UK’s leadership on electric cars, including public procurement. A grant of up to £4,500 to buyers of electric cars should also be extended, the group said, and government could further help by setting manufacturers sales targets for electric cars, starting at 15% of all cars sold in 2022 and rising to 45% by 2025.
The car industry body, the SMMT, said outright bans on petrol and diesels risked harming the new car market, and the sector could be undermined if not given enough time to adjust