The British government has announced that it will block the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, joining a growing global push to improve environmental standards through the removal of fossil fuel-powered transportation.
With a view to improving air quality and tackling climate change, UK authorities have outlined the early stages of a plan that will eventually see petrol and diesel cars phased out over the coming decades, with funding allocated to local governments to encourage improvements in air quality.
Environment secretary Michael Gove unveiled the plan to reporters on Wednesday, saying that the government, led by Prime Minister Theresa May, was adhering to its commitment to reduce pollution.
“We have to get petrol and diesel cars off our roads,” Gove said.
“Today we’re confirming as part of our plan to deal with air pollution that we will go ahead with getting rid of these polluting cars.”
“It’s critically important for government to help the car industry do the right thing.”
Gove applauded a previous announcement from Volvo, where the Swedish carmaker pledged to introduce only electric or hybrid powered vehicles from 2019. He also mentioned Mini’s plan to build an electric-powered hatch at its UK plant in Oxford from 2019.
British motorists have been far more supportive of diesel-fuelled vehicles than their Australian counterparts thanks to a tax structure that encourages consumers to choose cars with low C02 emissions – vehicles that burn fewer litres of fuel per kilometre travelled.
The framework of incentive program fails to address the higher levels of nitrogen oxides and harmful particulates produced by diesel engines compared to petrol cars, leading health experts to estimate that as many as 40,000 people die in the UK each year as a result of pollution caused by cars and trucks.
Although authorities did not make reference to recent diesel emissions cheating allegations leveled at numerous automakers, the breadth of the diesel scandal is unlikely to have bolstered the UK government's confidence in the car industry as governments become more mindful of public health.
The move has attracted some criticism with opponents raising concerns about the ability of the electricity grid to support the charging of millions of electric vehicles, while other critics have suggested the bans will not do enough to address climate change.
Although a similar plan has not yet been mooted for Australia, the British move does at least ensure a more open supply of right hand drive electric vehicles thanks to Britain’s standing as the world’s largest consumer of right-hand-drive models.