London city night scene, Blackwall tunnel

MPs may ask drivers to give up their cars to help hit CO2 targets

Electric cars aren't enough to bring emissions down to required levels

THE GOVERNMENT may need to encourage UK motorists to stop using their cars in order to meet its emissions targets, according to a cross-party group of MPs.

In its report on how more-efficient technologies can be used to reduce the UK’s emissions, the Science and Technology Committee suggested the number of cars on British roads needs to be reduced if the government is serious about meeting its legally-binding targets of producing “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The cross-party report didn’t explicitly state drivers must give up their vehicles en masse in favour of alternatives such as walking, cycling and using public transport, but did say that “in the long-term, widespread personal vehicle ownership does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation”.

Its recommendation to reduce the number of cars on the roads wasn’t limited to petrol and diesel-powered vehicles, either. According to the committee, projected increases in the uptake of cars that use hybrid, fuel cell and pure-electric powertrains aren’t guaranteed to bring emissions down fast enough. The government “should not aim to achieve emissions reductions simply by replacing existing vehicles with lower-emission versions”, the report said.

While the committee suggests a reduction in the country’s car count may need to be a long term goal, it also acknowledges says getting British drivers buying new, more efficient models is a credible course to head down in the short term.

To facilitate the transition from older, more polluting vehicles to the latest, more efficient models, the report recommends using financial incentives such as revised vehicle duty rates, adjusting the Plug-in Car Grant (available to buyers of new electric cars), and ensuring a “sufficient roll-out” of electric vehicle charging points at appropriate spots across the country.

One of the report’s less surprising recommendations is a call to ban all sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2035, rather than the 2040 target outlined by the government in its Road to Zero strategy. While suggestions along these lines aren’t new (the Business, Energy and Industry Strategy Committee and the Committee on Climate Change have also wanted to kill sales of traditional petrol and diesel models before 2040), this latest report also includes hybrids in the ban.

This contrast’s directly with one of the main original tenets of the Road to Zero targets. When the government announced the initiative in July 2018, it explicitly said it had “no plan to ban any particular technology — like hybrids — as part of this strategy”.

While the committee claims its recommendations are “realistic” and “achievable”, it appears many British motorists aren’t on board with the idea of spending less time behind the wheel, or upgrading to less-polluting vehicles. In a poll of 18,000 drivers by the AA, more than two-fifths (44%) said they don’t ever want to give up their personal car, and a separate quiz by the organisation revealed that less than half (47%) of UK car buyers expected to ever drive a pure-electric car.

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