Opinion: The Red or Green Light to the UK’s Car Revolution

The Red or Green Light to the UK’s Car Revolution

By Tom Baker

Air pollution has been linked to around 40,000 deaths per year within the UK, a staggering sum which underlines the risk and scale of poor air quality in the UK. Consequently, Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, stated that Britain ‘can’t carry on’ with petrol and diesel cars due to the damage they inflict on both the environment and people’s health.

A solution is to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars in the UK from 2040. This IMG_0765comes under a plan to remove these vehicles off the roads altogether by 2050, with electric or hybrid cars taking their place. Additionally, the government is going to provide £255m available to local authorities in the hope that they will remove diesel cars off the most polluted roads, improve their public transport and make changes to their road layouts. This can be done in the form of simply removing speed humps to prevent the repeatedly slowing and speeding up of cars, which can almost double the amount of emissions released.

The government’s aspiration is to target those high polluting hot spots and help councils clean up their local emissions, in the attempt to tackle the national air quality issue. Since the legislation came out, councils have eight months to generate their plans, with their final projects being produced by the end of this year.

But what does this really mean?

It can be argued that this is too little, too late, with organisations like Greenpeace highlighting that we still must wait another 22 years before any action actually occurs in addressing the environmental and public health emergency. Similar processes are occurring elsewhere, such as in Germany, India and the Netherlands, however, their aims are to have the ban implemented by 2030. Additionally, if a diesel and petrol car was bought before 2040, then it can still be driven on the roads of the UK after 2040. This piece of legislation simply provides a deadline for the providers to generate more environmentally friendly vehicles in the hope of eventually turning our roads green.

Consideration must also be placed on whether high polluting cars will be desired after 2040, disregard of this new law. Just over 10 years ago the first and only electric car went on sale in Britain – the G-Wizz. Five years later the Tesla Model S began to be developed. If we look to 2040, it can be highly likely that an electric car will be as cheap and practical as a petrol or diesel vehicle. Consequently, these governmental actions on tackling these pressing issues are positive, however they may not be entirely beneficial, as changes will naturally occur. It must be noted that these laws will speed up innovation and put pressure on companies to develop an affordable and practical zero emission vehicle.

A major area of concern surrounds the infrastructure needed to support the promotion of electric vehicles. If this is not addressed, the plan of adopting hybrid and electric vehicles will not work. There are currently around 125 000 plug-in electric cars in the UK, but only 14 000 chargers, with only 2,620 of these being rapid chargers (give a car 80% charge in 30 minutes). The worry is, that with the desired rise in use of electric cars, will there be enough charging docks and infrastructure to cope with the capacity? The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, has announced there will be a £400m fund to develop electric car charging infrastructure across the UK. A £40m donation will also go towards charging research. Consequently, this hopes to eliminate the so called ‘range anxiety’ linked with the lack of charging infrastructure within the UK.

The second infrastructure concern is the strain the rise of electric cars will have on Britain’s electricity supply. The rise in electric vehicles has the potential to put massive pressures on the UK’s national grid, with peak demand being said to increase by more than the capacity of the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station by 2030, according to the National Grid. They also predict that there will a rise in dependence on imported electricity, which places concerns surrounding energy security. Ultimately, the government needs to realise these issues and simultaneously address the energy supply problems, while still promoting electric and hybrid cars.

Not all doom and gloom

Although this article underpins the concerns and issues with the UK car revolution, turning to hybrids, hydrogen powered, and electric vehicles is indeed a positive start at addressing the current environmental and health issues. Furthermore, the correct investments are occurring at a local base in order to tackle polluting hot spots. Time will tell what the differing council plans will be and the success of their outcomes.

Furthermore, there is a drive by the UK government to tackle the infrastructure worries, shown by the large sums of money which have already been invested into incorporating more chargers across the UK.


Opinion: Does the UK have it tougher?

Does the UK have it tougher?

By Chris Friedler

Getting almost 200 countries to agree on anything is, it seems, to put it mildly, quite difficult. With reducing emissions, one essential barrier alongside economic status, effective governance, political will, cultural values and whatever else is simply these two things – what the makeup of emissions in a country is, and how much that country can take emissions out of the atmosphere. These can vary hugely between countries, so is it the case that the UK could be at a disadvantage from other countries tackling the same crisis?

Starting with the makeup of emissions, the UK in 2016 had a pretty mixed picture from the four biggest sectors, looking like this:


If we glance around at other countries, we can quickly see the picture looks totally different:




The USA has made much slower progress nationally than the UK in implementing new renewable power, although that hides much more progress in regions within the US. With the US’s dependency on petrol based cars and trucks, transport emissions are clearly more of a problem, and with a warmer climate, heating emissions from buildings are far smaller. Germany meanwhile has even more problems with emissions from electricity, struggling far more than the UK and US in closing down the coal fired power plants on which it currently relies, despite an impressive renewable capacity. France has quite the reversal of problems, with a very small amount of emissions from the power sector, with the emphasis being more on transport and a much larger contribution from agriculture than the other countries here. From Germany’s coal plants to France’s polluting fields from Norway’s industrial emissions to Ireland’s agriculture, every country can tell a different story about where their climate priorities are. And that isn’t even including developing or transition countries from the major players like China and India to moderate Iran and Saudi Arabia to minor like Kenya and Tanzania.

So why point out these differences, like a countrified version of top trumps (there’s a pun to about a certain president there)? First of all, it is important to remember that while all countries need to decarbonise power, transport and so on, their priorities will be in wildly different places depending on how their emissions are made up. But most of all, solutions for the power and transport sectors are easier to address than those for industry and agriculture. Most forms of renewable and low carbon power are or are rapidly approaching cost competitiveness, with widespread deployment across the world – there are very few solutions currently for decarbonising iron and steel smelting, and realistic cost competitive and tested solutions are still far off.

So does the UK have it particularly tough here? Both power and transport IMG_0253(technologically anyway) have clear solutions in low carbon power and electric vehicles, so while countries like Germany and France may have a higher or lower proportion respectively of emissions from power, the corresponding emissions from transport tend to balance it out with the UK, meaning many countries emit around half of their emissions from these two sectors. There are certainly countries that can sway this – Poland’s emissions are dominated from the power sector and Ireland’s from the agriculture sector, but overall the UK is in much the same boat as comparable countries.

OK, but what about ways to take emissions out of the atmosphere? The UK is a small, densely populated country. Surely countries like Canada and Sweden, with their forests, can use their land space to absorb carbon as a sink? That’s certainly true. Canada technically is a ‘net negative’ country, meaning that any emissions that it emits and more will be absorbed by the quantity of their forests and other terrain. But most countries aren’t Canada – while the UK and other countries’ ability to reduce carbon by absorbing it straight back into the land is very welcome, few countries are scarcely populated enough for this to give a sufficient advantage. France, Germany and many of our European neighbours like us have negligible emissions reduced this way.

The UK is not a hard done by country that the rest of the world has picked on when it comes to climate change – nor is it a rich country complaining loudly for no reason. The story of the UK looking wistfully over the sea to wonder if other countries are getting on easier with this ‘climate change thing’ is a human one. The other man’s grass is always greener, so they say. The UK’s problems are different, sure, to other countries – but for the most part, similar in the way we approach them. And even if the UK did have a particularly difficult time getting emissions down, it probably matter anyway. After all, it doesn’t matter where this pollution comes from – it’s still pollution, and it recognises no national boundaries.