The government has already taken a pounding over this week’s long-awaited Road to Zero strategy for decarbonising road transport, with business groups, campaigners, and think tanks all lining up to say it should have set a more ambitious target for phasing out petrol and diesel cars. But yesterday saw perhaps the most pointed and significant criticism yet, as the government’s official watchdog the Committee on Climate Change accused Ministers of squandering the opportunity to deliver a sufficiently ambitious strategy.
The government published the new strategy on Monday, setting out plans to reform building regulations to accelerate the roll out of electric vehicle charge points, invest in new charging infrastructure, and ban the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars from 2040.
The support for charging infrastructure was broadly welcomed, but trade body Energy UK and a number green NGOs accused the government of failing to match the ambition of other countries that have set much earlier phase out dates for new petrol and diesel cars.
Yesterday the CCC echoed that criticism and added to it, issuing a briefing note that accused the Department for Transport of “falling short of expectations” and potentially risking the UK’s climate targets at a time when emissions from transport are rising.
The short paper from the CCC – which will be followed by an in-depth analysis in the coming months – commended the new strategy for confirming the current incentive scheme for ultra low emission vehicles will remain in place until at least 2020, committing to delivering new charging infrastructure, and highlighting the benefits in terms of air quality and noise pollution that will result from a switch to electric vehicles (EVs).
In addition it welcomed the introduction of a new voluntary target to cut emissions from HGVs 15 per cent by 2025, although it noted that “this should be closely monitored, with an option to introduce tougher measures if progress is off track”.
However, it also argued the Road to Zero strategy “falls short in a number of areas”.
Most notably, it accused the government of providing a “lack of clarity over the stated aim to end the sale of conventional cars and vans in 2040”.
CCC warned failing to eventually phase out such vehicles is “inconsistent with the UK’s climate change commitments”. “To meet the government’s stated goal of every car and van being zero emission in 2050, only pure battery electric vehicles and long range plug in hybrids can be sold after 2035, enabling the majority of journeys to be completed in electric mode,” the CCC said.
In addition, it said the new strategy failed to incentivise the purchase of electric and hybrid vans, despite the fact new models with longer electric range are well suited to the needs of urban van drivers and emissions from vans are growing faster than those from any other form of transport.
And it highlighted how the strategy failed to address Brexit-related uncertainties that could undermine efforts to decarbonise road transport.
The government’s Chequers Plan has committed to retaining EU standards on goods and maintaining environmental standards at current levels or improving them post-Brexit, which suggests EU vehicle emissions rules will be honoured.
CCC chair Lord Deben said the strategy amounted to a “missed opportunity” that could put UK carbon targets at risk.
He warned that simply relying on the private sector to effect the shift to zero emission vehicles by 2040 was a “risky” strategy. “We had hoped for greater clarity on government actions to back this up and to ensure plug-in hybrids sold in the UK travel further in electric mode on a single charge,” he added.