The UK government is predicted to set a date for the banning of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. This brings it forward from 2035; before February it was set at 2040. They will likely put half a billion pounds towards charging infrastructure from next year.
This has been expected alongside several other green plans, whose announcement continues to be delayed as the Treasury is reportedly reluctant to fund much of it. Even despite this, the government’s climate ambitions — to date and predicted — remain far too low, with those that do exist lacking the funding to make them happen.
Bringing the planned ban forward is good, but is too little for too late a target. It brings it roughly in line with the promise that the Corbyn-led Labour Party made in late 2019, to aim to end “new sales of combustion engine vehicles” by 2030.
Labour’s commitments, however, included to a much greater extent, concrete policies to make such transitions work. They promised investments in “electric community car clubs”, “a vehicle scrappage scheme and clean air zones”. Plus, wider funding towards public transport — which would be partially restored to public ownership — and towards walking and cycling.
We criticised Labour at the time for being too timid in its commitments in these areas, and for watering the radical environmental policy passed at the 2019 conference.
“The timescale shows a characteristic lack of ambition. Sale of new fossil-fuel powered cars should be phased out much quicker than 2030, and the construction of them terminated immediately on Labour taking power. Cars currently have an average life of 14 years, so if fossil-fuel cars are still sold up until 2030, that locks us into fossil dependency until well beyond a 2030 target.
“A scheme to scrap and recycle, or — where workable — to convert fossil-powered vehicles to electric is a necessary part of this transition. Necessary, too, is a huge investment in public transport and cycling infrastructure.”
Such criticisms ring triply true of the current Conservative government — a government led by someone who has spent much of the last decade dabbling with climate scepticism.
As far as possible, car use should be reduced, with policies encouraging walking and cycling, and green public transport — electric trains, trams, buses, and the like. Electric cars, while not directly emitting greenhouse gases, are much less efficient in terms of energy used and in the environmental costs of production.
Where they must still be used, electric car clubs rather than private ownership minimises the net environmental production costs, and environmental costs in ensuring they remain as efficient as contemporary technology makes workable.
Charging infrastructure should not be designed simply for on-demand charging, analogous to contemporary petrol stations. Instead — as with many electrical appliances — charging should be responsive to the availability of electricity, rather than supply simply being adjusted to arbitrary demand. In practice, this means charging overnight.