Following announcements by Norway, the Netherlands, India and France, the UK government has announced that new diesel and petrol cars and vans will be banned after 2040. Ministers have also unveiled a £255-million fund to help local councils tackle emissions.
Compared to other countries that have announced an end to fossil vehicles, the UK’s timeline is longer (Norway has proposed to complete the phase-out by 2025), but it seems to be taking stronger action, in the form of an actual government-enforced ban, rather than just a goal.
The ban is part of a larger package of measures to clean up the air, which includes continued funding for the UK’s £4,500 “plug-in grant” purchase incentives, £100 million for charging infrastructure, and funding for low-emission taxis and buses.
Some details of the new regime are being left to local councils, causing friction between local authorities and the central government. “Local authorities are already responsible for improving air quality in their area, but will now be expected to develop new and creative solutions to reduce emissions as quickly as possible, while avoiding undue impact on the motorist,” reads a draft of the plan.
Another bone of contention is diesels. The government, which promoted diesels in the past, has rejected a scrappage plan for the now-disgraced engine technology. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is opposed to any ban on diesels. “The industry instead wants a positive approach which gives consumers incentives to purchase [electrified vehicles]. We could undermine the UK’s successful [sic] automotive sector if we don’t allow enough time for the industry to adjust,” said SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes.
The British Automobile Association said significant investment would be needed to install charging infrastructure, and speculated that the National Grid would come under pressure if EVs are widely adopted.
The new plan also came in for plenty of criticism from the other side of the street. Many shook their heads at the long timeline. “This sets a very clear direction of travel, but petrol and diesel cars won’t exist by 2040,” industry expert David Bailey told the BBC, predicting that the transition will likely happen in the mid-2020s.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the plan did not go “nearly far enough or fast enough.” Friends of the Earth called the plan a “cynical” move that passed the buck to local authorities. MP Sue Hayman also criticized the government for pushing the problem to local councils. “With nearly 40 million people living in areas with illegal levels of air pollution, action is needed now, not in 23 years’ time,” she said.