Eilidh Robb puts the the 2040 Petrol and Diesel Ban under the microscope

                                         Source: Wikimedia – Ride_and_Drive_EVs_Plug’n_Drive_Ontario.jpg

On the 26th of July, the UK Government announced their plans to combat air pollution (see here). By planning to phasing out diesel and petrol cars, eventually culminating in an official ban on their sale by 2040, the Conservative Government hope to tackle climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Electric cars not only tackle the problem of air pollution, but they help to reduce noise pollution, government subsidies keep their sale prices low, and the cost to run them is less than diesel or petrol.

To coincide with this, experts are also predicting that the plan is likely to be combined with a scrappage incentive scheme targeted at the most polluting vehicles in an attempt to get them off our roads. Pre-dating this, the government earlier announced in their spring budget that they were donating £270million towards the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund – aimed to support research areas such as electric car manufacturing and battery storage.

These plans indicate that the government might finally be taking climate change seriously. A move to phase out such polluting vehicles has been long-awaited, and would certainly be a definitive step towards tackling climate change on a large scale. However, there are challenges associated with electrical vehicles, and some argue that the government still isn’t going far enough!


The Challenges

First, there is the problem of electricity demand. Although electric cars mean less pollution, the energy still has to come from somewhere. The National Grid has expressed concerns about the increase in electricity demand that electric vehicles will create. This could in turn increase Britain’s reliance on imported energy, raise concerns about energy security, and according to some experts, if we are truly committed to going green, mean that we require roughly 10,000 more wind turbines to meet the increased demand. Although not impossible, this increased pressure on the grid is likely to have challenging consequences – is the government ready to tackle them?

Second, the electric vehicles themselves are problematic. To successfully implement electric vehicles across the UK, charging points will need to be installed across the country, and there will be pressure on the technology of battery power, to allow long-range driving and shorter charge times. Not only does the technology need to improve, but the costs of electricity need to remain low to provide a legitimate incentive for buyers. Electric cars are cheaper to run, but if we cannot comfortably meet the electricity demand, the cost to run them, and our homes, is likely to rise.

Thirdly, the government’s stance on tackling pollution is contradicting, or confusing at best. Arguably, they have demonstrated, as above, that they are serious about making progress with regards to lowering emissions. However, tax payer’s money is still being channelled into the road network, encouraging private car use. The congestion problems in cities still exist, and the cost of public transport is increasing – making it less desirable to take buses, trains and trams. Most notably, airplanes contribute the greatest amount of pollution into the atmosphere, and the government appears to still be pushing for the controversial expansion of Heathrow. A ban on diesel and petrol car sales might be a step in the right direction, but one step forward doesn’t make a difference if we are also taking three steps back, and it certainly doesn’t excuse other pollution emitting behaviour.

Finally, is 2040 too late? If the population continues to expand, or should I say, AS the population continues to expand, and public transport prices continue to rise, the number of car owners is likely to continue to increase exponentially. Not only does this create the problem of more road users in the future, but arguably the damage by 2040 may have already been done. If in the next 23 years we cannot reduce our transport emissions, the new plans will have little effect on the permanent alterations we will have already, and HAVE already made to our planet’s atmosphere. The UK is falling behind other countries who have set stronger targets for fossil fuel phase out, such as: Norway by 2025, Ireland by 2030, India by 2030, Netherlands by 2035, and even France’s capital by 2025. Crucially, just this week, the Scottish Government have announced that they will set to phase out diesel and petrol by 2032! It took Tesla only 4 years to develop its first road ready electrical car, and other countries think they can ready themselves faster. Does the UK really need 23 years to prepare for a purely electrical car market?

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What can we do?

Current prices of electric cars are not necessarily affordable for everyone, so to suggest that everyone swaps to electric now, is simply not feasible. But pushing people to turn to public transport or pedal power is one way forward.  Local councils are often the drivers for these kinds of initiatives, and all we need to do is support them. For example, in Edinburgh the council have installed a 20mph speed limit, to make the roads safer, encouraging people to use bikes. Elsewhere, local councils across the UK are also pushing the uptake of cycling: Yorkshire Bike Libraries, Boris Bikes in London, Ofo’s Bikes in Cambridge, and YoBike – coined the Uber of biking – to name a few. By being more involved in local initiatives, we can push the government to make national changes, and ultimately contribute to lower transport emissions before 2040.

The car industry too has a role to play in contributing towards the fight on climate change. Most notably regarding self-driven car technologies – otherwise known as automated vehicles. Companies such as Google, Uber, Audi, Toyota, Ford, Tesla and Mercedes have begun investigating the environmental benefits of automated car capabilities. These self-driven vehicles are expected to reduce traffic congestion, making driving more efficient, as well as enabling more aerodynamic driving (by driving closer together) to reduce energy consumption by 4-25%. By creating lighter vehicles, energy consumption could further be reduced by as much as 23%. This new wave of technology combined with electrical car use, and public transport initiatives, could productively contribute towards smart, green, transport for the future.

What is clear is that the government are on the right track, but they need to take bolder steps if they are serious about reducing pollution to tackle climate change. And for the rest of us, we need to think about our polluting behaviours. Whether that means investing in electric cars, biking to work, swapping the car for the train, or simply introducing a lift share – the options are endless, and these small changes can help push the government to join us in heading towards a zero-emission future.


Do Nation: Help UKYCC pledge to cut carbon!
UKYCC are currently running a DoNation campaign to coincide with Scotland’s Climate Week starting on the 18
th of September. If you are interested in making a reduction to your carbon footprint, why not join us and pledge to go public transport, switch to cycling, or even run to work. For more information follow this link to our UKYCC DoNation site: