Clean transport: Moment of truth or moment of denial?

DecarboniseNow has been campaigning on a variety of areas, from renewables to retrofits, but the most central campaign to its heart has been decarbonising transport. It is still my belief that success or failure in decarbonising transport over this decade will swing the balance on whether we can radically get our emissions down, or whether we will lag behind. One of the policy DN has campaigning for is a ban on selling conventional cars and vans as early as feasibly possible, which expert literature says is by 2030. Whether you want motorways to become giant cycle lanes, or guilt free permission to drive a giant Tesla SUV, everyone who wants a cleaner, more sustainable future should want this outcome as opposed to a later, less ambitious date. To see more of our reasoning, check out the electric vehicles campaign page here. As Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to give a new green speech this week, and it is widely expected that it will include the decision on when to ban old fashioned cars and vans, here is an update on what to look for and what DecarboniseNow has been doing about it.

The story so far. Transport is the largest source of emissions in the UK, and as electric cars are readily available solutions, phasing them and other alternatives in as quickly as possible is paramount for tackling climate change. To this end, a 2030 ban on conventional cars was considered in 2018, but pushed back to 2040 by then-transport secretary Chris Grayling. DecarboniseNow outlined reasons for bringing the ban forward to 2030 to current transport minister Grant Shapps as soon as it became active, towards the end of 2019. A few weeks after the Department replied, saying the government was to consider further action, a new consultation on bringing forward the end date of petrol and diesel was launched. DecarboniseNow submitted its evidence to the consultation for a 2030 ban in a paper, which you can now read on the website here. The government’s operating assumption was to aim for a 2035 date, a welcome improvement on 2040, but it would still result in a phase out twice as slow as a 2030 ban. With the consultation extended due to Covid19, a decision on the ban was meant to be made back in September, but was pushed further back to allow more debate with the automotive industry. DecarboniseNow in response has since written to both the Department of Transport and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, as well as their respective ministers, asking them to make the right decision.

Now, reports have indicated that it’s very likely we can expect an announcement from the Prime Minister about a decision in a speech this week. So what possible scenarios can we expect from this speech?

  • 1) The decision is delayed again. A bit disappointing, but it won’t really matter if the outcome is the right one. It gives both sides of the argument more chance to impress.
  • 2) The entire consultation and process is void, and the 2040 date remains. This seems unlikely, given the almost year long process of consulting on bringing the ban forward, and such a move is likely to be deeply unpopular.
  • 3) A 2035 date is specified, with little additional detail. 2035 is an improvement, but as stated above, the bare minimum and unambitious. If this is governmental non-binding goal, with no additional policies on how to get there, this will poor showing for such a long consultation process.
  • 4) The same, but with many additional policies to increase electric vehicle uptake. Again, this would not be ambitious, but it would at least create greater clarity in the short term. Many of these plans may be put in the simultaneous Transport Decarbonisation Plan, also under development.
  • 5) A 2032 date. This has been floated as well, in part because the Scottish government already has this date for its own market. Talk of a 2032 date has dropped off in recent months, but nevertheless, it may act as a compromise measure.
  • 6) A 2030 date. This would be truly ambitious, pushing to the limit of what is achievable by the industry, leading the world in sustainable transport, and tackling climate change the fastest.
  • 7) And again, if that is backed up with greater policy development, like yearly quotas for electric vehicle sales, greater fiscal incentives and charging infrastructure targets, the UK can start a truly ambitious, sustainable clean transport revolution.

So, how will the story continue? It’s not clear yet, but DecarboniseNow will be covering developments every step of the way. Updates to any announcements will be put up on here, and cover the details, so you don’t miss out. In the mean time, we can only hope the government is tackling climate change at running rather than walking pace, and treating it like the planetary crisis it is.