Great idea – but show us how we’ll get there!

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Here we go again! Boris Johnson announces a ‘world-beating’ programme to make Britain the environmental envy of the world. The usual suspects line up to say it’s too little too late, and the whole thing blows over in a couple of days, at least as a news story. But dig a little deeper and it’s not hard to identify what needs to happen to make Boris’s bluster into a plan that can really make a difference.

Let’s focus on the headline announcement: the intention to withdraw all new petrol and diesel cars from sale in the UK from 2030. Yes, numerically that puts us ahead of every country except Norway (which was first out of the blocks on massive investment in electric vehicles) so it sounds good, but on its own it’s meaningless. We’re back into that territory we were in at the election where all parties took part in auctions to see who could say they’d get Britain to net zero carbon emissions earliest – the dates garnered all the media attention, with little heed paid to whether the policies that underpinned them would actually deliver.

So it is with ending new internal combustion engines by 2030. The aspiration is great, though hardly ahead of the game when we consider the urgent need to cut climate emissions. But given that petrols and diesels still make up around 90% of new car sales in the UK, it’s a very tall order to stop all new sales within 10 years, so the key lies in whether there’s a plan – a roadmap if you like – to get us to zero-sales by 2030.

The short answer is that there is, but it’s already hopelessly behind the clock. The EU has a plan to increase e-car sales, and it’s currently being transposed into British law for the post-Brexit era. But the EU’s law is inadequate, and the British transposition is even weaker.

If we’re to get to zero-sales by 2030, e-vehicles have to account for at the very least 40% of new car sales by 2025, and really 50%. In order to meet that target, the share of e-cars has to be around 25% by the end of 2021 (because the low-hanging fruit means we have to be ahead of the curve in the early years of the decade). The EU’s regulation puts the bloc on course for a 15% share, and the UK’s Statutory Instrument for transposing that EU regulation foresees a 12% share by the end of 2021.

Of course Boris Johnson knows that by the time he has to postpone the 2030 end date, people will have forgotten he ever made the promise, and he may well not be in power then. It’s a headline made to impress today, with no regard for the reality of tomorrow.

But instead of just resorting to the old clichés of ‘headline grabbing’, ‘too little too late’ and such like, our response should be to say ‘Great idea, but now let’s get the policies right to make it happen.’ And that’s where the focus has to be on putting binding targets into UK legislation that force car makers to hit minimum sales of zero-emission vehicles at fixed intervals so we really do end up with an end to cars with engines in 2030.

It can be done. For years the car makers held out against mandatory emissions limits. Pressure from the environmental movement forced the EU into setting CO2 standards, which revolutionised research and development in the automotive industry. So what’s lacking now is a sufficiently ambitious regulatory framework – and that’s what the focus of our response to this week’s environmental blueprint should be on.

* Chris Bowers, a former director of the Environmental Transport Association and communications consultant to the European NGO umbrella Transport & Environment, oversaw the development and writing of the transport chapter of the 2019 review of the Liberal Democrats’ climate change policy.

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31 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Nov '20 - 1:16pm

    Yes to this!

    There is too much knee jerk cynicism. We can improve the way society is and the way politics is.

    Johnson is not a politician such as Trump.

    But he must not be only bluster!

    This government needs constructive opposition. This party should provide it.

  • Kay Kirkham 20th Nov '20 - 2:19pm

    I have just bought an EV. The immediate problem is the lack of recharging infrastructure and the plethora of providers. I can recharge at home because I have a private drive but there seems to be no plan for potential owners who live in flats or park on the street. I am nervous about travelling too far because there may literally be nowhere to recharge or the recharging station may be in use or out of order. That, combined with the limited range( 200 miles in my case although I haven’t tested that yet in real life) is a powerful disincentive to ICE owners to change over. EVs are also much more expensive to buy ( but cheaper to run) that the ICE equivalent even with the goverment grant.

    I expect to see a huge demand for ICE vehicles immediately before the ban come in and an increase in the number of old bangers kept on the road well past their sell by date.

  • I often drive from the South of England to the Scottish Highland where conventional petrol stations are few and far between. I wouldn’t even think of doing it in an electric vehicle. The policy is madness.

  • Helen Dudden 20th Nov '20 - 2:55pm

    I wonder, how a supplier to those with a disability, Motability, would manage. The cost, unless it’s reduced greatly, will most certainly affect this supplier.
    On the subject of electric vehicles, my Power Wheelchair ran into problems with the very expensive, heavy batteries. It wasn’t until, I was in a get home/ not get home situation, I knew my charger was not charging the batteries sufficiently. I don’t walk, so if that’s the way a EV runs out of power, that’s frightening. It takes several hours to recharge.
    Also, I understand China is producing the batteries, one of the largest pollution producing countries. Lithium is toxic as waste, I know there are batteries that contain a jelly substance.

  • Jenny Barnes 20th Nov '20 - 3:31pm

    I was at a LibDem conference some years ago in Brighton, where the assembled attendees nearly all put their hands up to commit to a personal reduction in CO2 emissions of 10% over the next year. I didn’t, because I know how difficult even a fairly small change like that can be.

  • The BBC apparently thinks that we should give up sending emails. I felt like reminding them that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is only 400 ppm but every breath we breathe out has 40,000 ppm.

    Incidentally, the common greenhouse gases are now saturated so the contribution to warming is nothing to worry about. Sadly the climatologists are obsessed with flawed models rather than observation so I have no idea how long it will take for them to realise the implications.

  • Nonconformistradical 20th Nov '20 - 5:57pm

    @Peter
    “I often drive from the South of England to the Scottish Highland…..”

    Often? Why do you need to drive there often?

  • @Non etc
    Is that your best contribution to this debate? There are several points here. Long journeys are no longer going to be possible in a reasonable time due to the relatively short range of a charged battery and the relatively long time requred to re-charge it. Then there is the problem of finding a charge point at all, whether there is a huge queue of angry motorists waiting at it and whether the grid is able to supply the electricity.

    Just last week we had two Margin Alerts when the grid was on the verge of running out out, despite importing 10% of our needs.

  • Time to wake up and do whatever we can as individuals (however small) to save the planet.

    We have just signed up to Octopus, the energy supplier, for bothour gas and electricity. They use only renewables…… and we’re saving £ 30 per month on our present usage with one of the big suppliers. On the cars, it’s time for HMG to get the purchase cost down and the infrastructure sorted out.

  • Peter Martin 20th Nov '20 - 7:35pm

    The common greenhouse gases are now saturated so the contribution to warming is nothing to worry about.

    This is just made up nonsense. It’s simply wrong.

  • @Peter Martin
    What is your evidence for claiming that? Do you keep abreast of climate science? If so, you have missed some important research.

  • Nonconformistradical 20th Nov '20 - 8:34pm

    @ Peter 20th re posting Nov ’20 – 6:35pm

    You miss my point entirely. I merely ask why do you need to drive – often – from South of England to Scottish Highlands? What is so important that requires you to make this journey often? It’s a long (and probably tiresome given the usual state of UK motorways) journey – to the extent of journey time being a complete lottery. Just wondering why you need to do it?

  • The basis of greenhouse theory is that gases with a magnetic dipole such as water vapour and CO2 are capable of absorbing outgoing infra red radiation (the earth cools by radiating IR radiation to space) thereby reducing the cooling. The gases re-radiate energy as photons but these are in a random direction therefore approximately half are back towards the earth. Extra CO2 in the atmosphere raises the “opaque to IR” level and radiation to space must take place from a higher, cooler altitude. The Stefan Boltzmann relationship means that the earth must warm in order to achieve the same level of radiation from a higher altitude.
    That is the theory of global warming. Co2 has several absorption bands or wavelengths at which IR is absorbed. The degree of absorption possible depends on the atmospheric concentration of the gas and the relationship is logarithmic. The greatest effect is at low concentrations and the effect tends towards zero at high concentrations. This has been well known for over a hundred years. The key question is where we are on the logarithmic curve. Two physicists, Wijngaarden and Happer have now calculated the effect, spectral line by line, and conclude that the greenhouse effect is effectively zero at current concentrations. The calculations show excellent agreement with modelling and measurement. https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.03098.pdf
    The implication is that the global warming scare is over. This is backed up by the fact that global warming has been relatively low in the last decade and easily explained by natural events such as the strongest El Nino Southern Ocean oscillations in living memory. It also explains why the hallmark of warming, the so called hotspot in the equatorial troposphere has never been found despite several million weather balloons being sent to find it. It also explains why all climate models are running up to seven times hotter than reality and most estimates of climate sensitivity to CO2 are hopelessly wrong. We should all rejoice that global warming is no more.
    Why do I suspect that Marxists, eco warriers, multibillionaires, charities, academics, thousands of climate scientists, turbine manufacturers and all of the millions engaged in the new global industry of subsidy harvesting will not welcome this excellent news?

  • Peter Martin 20th Nov '20 - 10:53pm

    @ Peter,

    This is just another attempt by well known Climate sceptics to dress up a contrarian argument in respectable scientific clothing.

    We only need to look at the Venus to know what happens when an atmosphere is genuinely saturated with Greenhouse gases. It is 95% CO2. The average surface temperature is around 464 °C. This is hotter than the maximum measured on Mercury which is even closer to the Sun.

    Instead of filling your head with crankish nonsense that you don’t understand, and spreading disinformation on LDV, I suggest you take your cue from the excellent NASA website.

    There is not a single university dept (with the possible exception of the religiously funded pseudo unis of the USA) or governmental climate research organisation, anywhere in the world, that thinks “we should all rejoice that global warming is no more.”

    https://climate.nasa.gov/

  • Jenny Barnes 21st Nov '20 - 7:46am

    “Global warming is no more”
    The arctic and greenland ice is not listening.

  • Helen Dudden 21st Nov '20 - 9:10am

    I would like to think this is a positive step forward.
    There is nothing being said about the fantastic backlog of patients waiting for NHS treatment. Serious illness is being put on hold.
    Near Bath a 5g mast is going up, is that green?
    Perhaps, in the future king journeys will be discouraged as the Reset progresses.
    As one Conservative MP stated, we have to wait for the next ballot box, to make comments.

  • Diesel vehicles pollute more than petrol ones do they not? So why not ban diesel passenger car sales from day 2026 but let people buy petrol cars until about 2035 or whenever the electric market is ready.

    Currently electric cars are expensive have short range are inconvenient to charge and presumably increase demand on power stations. I can’t see the market being ready for 2030. There have been real improvements in the efficiency of combustion engines.

  • Chris Perry 21st Nov '20 - 9:43am

    Surely we need to establish battery exchange stations rather than charging points. Drivers would simply take out their battery and replace it with a ready charged one. This would overcome problems of range and charging time.

  • Nonconformistradical 21st Nov '20 - 9:55am

    @Marco
    “Diesel vehicles pollute more than petrol ones do they not? ”
    Depends which pollutant you’re talking about. Diesels emit less CO2/km than petrol but their real problem is oxides of nitrogen and particulates.

    So in terms of greenhouse gases – it isn’t that simple.

  • NCFR – why is the vehicle tax so much higher for diesels then?

  • Chris Perry – lovely idea!. Have you any idea how much ev batteries weigh and how you would extract them from the vehicle? Mine are underneath the vehicle for its entire length so a bit tricky.

  • To answer my own question, the battery in the Renault Zoe weighs 326 kg.

  • @Peter Martin
    Your final paragraph is absolutely spot on. The last thing they want is for the crisis to end. There would be no requrement for thousands of climate scientists and lavish government funding. Climate change is a global multi-trillion dollar business.

  • Nonconformistradical 21st Nov '20 - 11:51am

    @Marco
    “why is the vehicle tax so much higher for diesels then?”

    Might the other pollutants in diesel fuel possibly be a good enough reason?

  • In the case of battery exchanges, it wouldn’t need to be the entire battery, and it’s not that hard to rejig the design so that some bits of batteries are in more accessible places, and could be changed fairly easily at motorway service stations with the right equipment. It is an area that needs a lot more work, but so is everything else to do with EVs.

    The point about difficulty charging private EVs in areas where people do not have private drives is important. Those areas are also the ones where air quality benefits of more EVs are greatest. On the other hand, many car users in built up areas either travel to somewhere that could have charging points, or do low mileage, so a fairly local communal charging point is fine. Even having a few at supermarkets or city centre car parks will be enough for many users to be able to top up while they shop.

    Councils should look to earmark old bits of empty brownfield land – old petrol stations are likely to be ideal – and convert them into charging stations. In Dundee, a couple of the multi-storey car parks have had their top level dedicated to EV charging, complete with solar panels.

    One area ripe for increased EV usage is building sites. Many construction vehicles have artificially introduced weights for stability. In these cases, the additional weight of a great big battery is an advantage. Those vehicles often have very noisy and dirty engines, so a switch to electric would bring additional advantages, especially in built up areas.

    Very rural areas need much more consideration. I foresee a need for some exemptions when the time comes, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to make it work ASAP.

  • @Nonconformistradical and @Marco

    This is worth checking properly, and if I had more time now I’d look it up, but I have memories of reading something about diesel vehicles behaving differently in real world scenarios than laboratory ones – that’s definitely the case for air pollution emissions, but I think may also be true for CO2 due to the fuel efficiency not being what’s been claimed.

    I recommend reading “The Invisible Killer: The rising global threat of air pollution and how we can fight back” by Gary Fuller. It’s focused on air pollution, but goes into a bit of discussion on petrol versus diesel.

    Taxes (and prices) for diesel vs petrol is not just about the environment. It has been about encouraging the use of more bits of crude oil. In short, if too many people use petrol, we have an excess of heavier fractions, which includes diesel. Then you have to consider where the diesel is coming from. Apparently there was a diesel shortage in Western Europe at one point which meant more was imported from Russia, where their refineries are less efficient, and including the production as well as the use, diesel becomes more polluting.

    Plus, the extra soot from diesel emissions increases absorption of heat from the sun, so accelerates warming through that route.

  • Peter, you had some scathing things to say about the scientists that I reported. You used such phrases as “crankish nonsense.” You are wrong. They are, in fact very distinguished and highly respected professors and experts in their fields. Bill Happer, for example, probably knows more about the radiative physics of carbon dioxide than any other person alive. He is an expert on CO2 lasers and spectroscopy, both subjects absolutely key to the understanding of greenhouse gas theory. He has published hundreds of peer reviewed papers and his expertise is beyond question.

    Yet, I understand your scepticism. Corrupt science is common place on both sides of the controversy. Scare mongering is now standard justification for funding applications and denial is common when resisting legislation. Unfortunately, the truth, which normally lies somewhere in the middle, becomes the casualty which means the ordinary person loses.

    As a scientist who has followed climate science closely for over a dozen years, I have no doubt that the paper I described above will have an important impact. I have found a description which is much more user friendly that the link I posted earlier. I urge everyone to have a look at it.

    https://www.cfact.org/2020/09/26/study-suggests-no-more-co2-warming/

  • Peter Martin 22nd Nov '20 - 8:24am

    @ Peter,

    You’ve only latched on to this unpeer reviewed “paper” because it gives you a conclusion which you like. You don’t have a clue about the maths is contains. Sure, it looks impressive but in the end no rational person can ignore, as Jenny says that “The Arctic and Greenland ice is not listening.” Neither is the ice in the Himalayan glaciers.

    But if you are so far into your conspiracy theory, I don’t suppose that’s a problem. The media are part of it all too. The glaciers aren’t melting, the ice caps aren’t shrinking. Maybe even CO2 levels aren’t really increasing? It’s all one huge lie to ensure that university climate science depts are well funded!

    Maybe extraterrestrials have swapped the real climate scientists, apart from the intrepid few that have managed to evade them, for alien look alikes as part of their evil plans for Earth conquest!

  • Peter Martin 22nd Nov '20 - 8:50am

    We probably shouldn’t assume that the only green choice will be EVs. Hydrogen fueled vehicles could yet win out.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-50212037

  • David Garlick 22nd Nov '20 - 5:54pm

    Spot on article.
    Generating heat from the ‘climate change is over’ brigade. Not worth heeding but well worth challenging for their nonsense. We should think very carefully about allowing contributions from the ‘Unkown’ or ‘unnamed’. Anyone who does not want their name published could have their changed name vetted and approved maybe?
    IT would cover a multitude of sinners… and remove their sins from these pages. or allow us to know them for who they are.

  • John Marriott 23rd Nov '20 - 3:00pm

    Is the world getting hotter? yes. Has human activity got anything to do with it? Probably yes? If we reduced out carbon footprint, would this help? Probably yes. Enough to save the planet? Pass. Would moving away from fossil fuels help? Yes. What about stopping the production of diesel and petrol powered vehicles? Only if a suitable alternative to this means of propulsion can be found that is deliverable, available and sustainable. Why not switch to public transport? Have you heard of Covid?

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