Britain plans to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040, as the government intends to act on air pollution. Environmental groups said the proposals did not go far enough.
Environment Minister Michael Gove said on Wednesday the move was part of the government's 3 billion pound ($3.9 billion, 3.4 billion euro) air pollution plan, which has been at the heart of a protracted high court legal battle.
The plan asks local councils to come up with measures by March 2018 on how to reduce nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels. The government will provide local councils with 255 million pounds to bring NO2 levels to legal levels. Possible solutions include the removal of speed humps, reprogramming traffic lights and changing road layouts.
"The Conservatives had a manifesto promise to ensure that by 2050 there would be no diesel or petrol vehicles on the road and today we're confirming that should mean no new diesel or petrol vehicles by 2040," Gove told BBC Radio 4.
Ministers believe it poses the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, costing up to 2.7 billion pounds in lost productivity in one recent year. The report will also include an air quality grant for councils, a green bus fund for low carbon vehicles, £1.2bn for cycling and walking and 100 million pounds to help air quality on the roads.
Fog envelops the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben in Central London. The government report includes an air quality grant for councils and 1.2 billion pounds for cycling and walking
The strategy comes amid warnings that the UK's high level of air pollution could be responsible for 40,000 premature deaths a year. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has been calling for tougher measures to tackle air pollution, which kills 9,000 people a year in the capital.
The reported move follows a similar announcement earlier this month by the French government. The French president took the steps to help his country meet its targets under the Paris climate accord, in an announcement that came a day after Volvo said it would only make fully electric or hybrid cars from 2019 onwards.
It will also include hybrid vehicles that have an electric motor and a petrol or diesel engine.
Ministers have been urged to introduce charges for vehicles to enter a series of "clean air zones” (CAZ). However, the government only wants taxes to be considered as a last resort, fearing a backlash against any move that punishes motorists. "Poor air quality is the biggest environmental risk to public health in the UK and this government is determined to take strong action in the shortest time possible,” a government spokesman said.
A legal struggle
Britain's High Court demanded that the government produce plans to tackle illegal NO2 pollution, largely caused by diesel emissions. A draft report was published in May, but the full report was delayed by last month's snap general election.
Campaigners want cities to impose entry fees on diesel drivers, but councils will only be allowed to do so if no other measures are available, with ministers wary of "punishing" drivers of cars who bought their vehicles in good faith, according to media reports.
"Diesel drivers are not to blame and, to help them switch to cleaner vehicles, the government will consult on a targeted scrappage scheme, one of a number of measures to support motorists affected by local plans," a government spokesman said.
Gove added that he did not believe "that it is necessary to bring in charging."
Eco groups unhappy
Campaign group ClientEarth warned that health issues "caused by exposure to illegal air pollution are happening now, so we need urgent action."
Fellow campaigners Greenpeace also warned that the plans did not do enough to combat the immediate issue of NO2 pollution in cities
"While this plan makes the right headline-grabbing noises, in reality it means that children across the UK will continue to be exposed to harmful air pollution for years to come, with potentially irreversible impacts," said Areeba Hamid, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace UK.
"Providing a long term vision is not enough, (Michael) Gove still needs protect our health right now from toxic fumes polluting our streets."
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said that the move could cost jobs. "Currently demand for alternatively fueled vehicles is growing but still at a very low level as consumer have concern over affordability, range and charging points," said SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes.
"Outright bans risk undermining the current market for new cars and our sector which supports over 800,000 jobs across the UK, we could undermine the UK's successful automotive sector if we don't allow enough time for the industry to adjust."
jbh/uhe (AFP, Reuters)