Following the lead of France, the government of the United Kingdom has announced that it will ban the sales of diesel- and gasoline-powered passenger vehicles after 2040. The directive is part of the government’s updated clean air plan, which was updated after earlier versions were attacked as “weak” and “inadequate.” The government says up to £2.7 billion ($3.5 billion) in various investments are needed in order to improve human health.
Proponents of electric vehicles have long cited the need to scale adoption of electric vehicles in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But other pollutants, including nitrogen dioxides (NOx), have had a detrimental impact on human health. Various environmental regulators, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have attributed high concentrations of NOx to respiratory diseases including asthma.
The directive acknowledges that at a macro level, there has been much improvement in air quality, thanks to improvements in automotive technologies. Since 1970, sulfur emissions by gone down 95 percent and NOx by 69 percent. Nevertheless, progress confronting NOx pollution in cities and towns has largely stalled, while the UK’s government has been routinely hammered as many environmental groups feel policies simply are not simply not bold enough to clean the air.
“Poor air quality persists in certain areas of the country as a direct result of the failure of the European regulatory system to deliver expected improvements in vehicle emissions,” summarized the report.
Diesel cars have become far more popular across the pond for decades, as they promised much better fuel efficiency and mileage. But according to UK policymakers, they did not deliver the anticipated reductions in NOx emissions. Furthermore, the Volkswagen emissions scandal of almost two years ago was a reminder that the European Union’s standards did not provide the air quality improvements UK leaders and citizens had coveted.
To that end, conventional car and van sales will have to end by 2040, and almost every automobile on the UK’s roads must be a zero emissions vehicle by 2050. In order to make this shift a reality, future investments will include £1 billion in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, as well as spending on bus retrofits along with expanding low- or zero emissions bus fleets in cities and towns.
But cleaning the air will not just be about switching the type of automobile engines. The lion’s share, or £1.2 billion of this clean air fund, will be spent on strategies and infrastructure to make bicycling and walking more attractive to Britons.
The government is optimistic such a transformation of the country’s transport system could occur. Changes are underway now, according to this report, as it claims that UK-manufactured Nissan LEAFs now account for 20 percent of electric car sales across Europe; the country also reportedly has the highest number of electric and plug-in electric vehicles in the region as well. Meanwhile, evidence suggests that automakers will change their business models. Volvo, for example, has said it will start selling only electric or hybrid vehicles after 2019.
Critics, however, say this new policy is not going far enough. One organization downplaying this announcement is Greenpeace. First of all, its campaigners have pointed out that the UK announced a similar future ban on internal combustion engine-powered cars in 2011. Greenpeace also says the 23-year transition is too long of a wait, and in any event, market forces could make conventional-fueled cars redundant by then. Finally, the NGO views the future ban as noise-only, masking the fact that the UK is losing its battle against air pollution. “Simply put, this announcement does little to deal with the vehicles polluting our streets right now,” Greenpeace’s India Thorogood concluded in a blog post dissecting the new policy yesterday.
Image credit: David Holt/Flickr
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.