The UK’s clean car goal: the majority of cars should be electric by the year 2030

5th June 2018

Electric car on charge

As part of its clean growth strategy, the UK Government has recently announced plans to phase out sales of any petrol and diesel cars and vans by the year 2040. However, with a considerable increase in transport emissions over the past three years, climate advisors are now advising that the majority of vehicles on the road should be electric by 2030.

Clean growth strategy

These recommendations came as part of a wider report that has been set out to assess the government’s clean growth strategy that was released at the end of 2017. This strategy stands as a blueprint for the UK’s low carbon future and is an attempt to cut carbon emissions while driving economic growth.

Analysis by the Committee of Climate Change (CCC) in January was sure to acknowledge that the UK government has made a “strong commitment to achieving the UK’s energy targets” but also wasn’t afraid to highlight that there were “significant gaps” that must be dealt with if future targets are to be hit.

The chairman of the CCC, Lord Deben, stated that “the clean growth strategy is ambitious in its aims to build a thriving low-carbon Britain but ambitions alone are not enough.” He continued, “As it stands, the strategy does not deliver enough action to meet the UK’s emission targets in the 2020s and 2030s.”

As part of 2008’s Climate Change Act, the government is forced to set out policies and proposals so that it meets the current legally binding carbon budgets. However, these carbon budgets will easily be missed if policies are not in place before the recommended timeline.

“The Government’s policies and proposals will need to be firmed up as a matter of urgency – and supplemented with additional measures – if the UK is to deliver on its legal commitments and secure its position as an international climate change leader.”

At present, the CCC claims that said current targets will be missed by “a significant margin.”

Targets are tough, but not impossible

The increase in carbon emissions then led targets to be pushed even further to the year 2030. By this time, experts are advising that at least 60 percent of vehicles should be electric. The same report also highlighted the importance of making homes and businesses more environmentally friendly, with a focus on phasing out high-carbon fossil fuel heating alongside generating 85 percent of the UK’s energy from low-carbon sources by the year 2032.

Those involved in the automotive industry have expressed concern that these targets are almost impossible to achieve. However, some climate experts claim that the motor industry is prone to saying targets are impossible, but always manage to find ways to meet them.

Professor Jim Watson, head of the UK Energy Research Centre, was one of the first to say that the 2040 target should come five years sooner as it has done in Scotland. Watson, who started his career as a car engineer, explained: “sometimes the car industry has done itself a great disservice by lobbying against environmental standards and then finding itself in trouble when the oil price goes up, and people want cleaner, more efficient cars.”

He was referring to a campaign by US carmakers who battled against tighter efficiency standards - an event that only led to the bankruptcy of manufacturers whose models were deemed inefficient.

Watson said that the car industry should embrace the given target, however impossible it may seem at present, and prompt the government to regulate them harder so that it can be achieved.

Uncertainty over the future

While certain UK car manufacturers have publicly announced that they expect to meet the proposed standards, others have admitted that they fear uncertainty over the future. Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) boasted that it expects to meet the required standards long before the set date. A spokesperson said “This (2040 target) is 22 years away – or seven new cars away for many new car buyers on a typical ownership cycle. We are confident that every new Jaguar or Land Rover will meet the proposed criteria long before 2040.”

Nissan has also said that it supported clean car targets, which comes as no surprise considering that they were the pioneers in electric vehicles. However, other anonymous manufacturers claim that the 2040 standards have not been thoroughly considered. One proposal under particular scrutiny is one by the Department for Transport that would force hybrid cars to have the capacity to travel 50 miles without burning fossil fuels. This would require larger batteries that would result in more weight and further cost, and for the average driver, this amount of extra capacity is likely to be redundant.

This isn’t something that’s causing headaches in the UK. Governments around the world have been told to cut down on emissions that cause air pollution and contribute to the ever-growing problem of climate change. In India, it was announced that by 2030 only electric cars could be sold, but after criticism from multiple car firms, the policy has been withdrawn and is not yet clear.

In Europe and Asia, it is absolutely certain that carmakers will be expected to move toward low or even zero emissions vehicles.

Car firms prompt government to improve charging infrastructure

The motor industry has dealt with the homogenisation of world markets for decades, but with the coming changes, it may be that car firms are manufacturing vehicles to access each individual economy.

UK car firms are therefore highlighting the need for the government to improve the supply of charging infrastructure, alongside increasing customer incentives to buy low-emission cars. It is only until the demand for cleaner cars is increased that manufacturers will be able (and perhaps willing) to step up production levels.

Although the number of electric cars sold in the UK has drastically increased over the past four years, at present, electric and hybrid cars only constitute 1.4% of the total fleet. Carbon emissions from new cars also rose for the first time in two decades last year, largely down to consumers opting for bigger models. Mike Hawes from SMMT said that “vehicle manufacturers will increasingly offer electrified versions of their vehicles giving consumers ever more choice but industry cannot dictate the pace of change nor levels of consumer demand.”

On the other hand, environmentalists claim that car buyers will purchase the cars that are permitted to be sold in that country regardless of how ambitious car industry lobbyists claim the 2040 deadline to be. Green Alliance has said that a complete ban on combustion engine models by 2030 would not only boost sales of electric cars but increase any prospect of the UK becoming a net vehicle exporter. The independent thinktank claims that if the UK fails to do this, it could be missing out on the biggest growth opportunity of the century.

A push toward the new 2030 deadline would also affect the UK’s legally binding climate target, cutting the gap by an eye-watering 85 percent or 98 million tonnes of CO2e. Four committees of MPs have recently warned that air pollution is now a “national health emergency” and strongly urged the government to take much more robust action.

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