A UK ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2040 conjures up the clean, green vision of an all-electric future and is absolutely the right thing to tackle climate change – emissions from transport are high and not falling. But for the public health emergency of today, with most urban areas already having suffered illegal levels of air pollution for years, it does nothing at all. The 2040 ban on fossil-fuelled cars is a headline-grabbing job,
Ministers call toxic air “the biggest environmental risk to public health in the UK” which causes “unnecessary and avoidable” damage – 40,000 early deaths a year. They even echo the legal obligation they have repeatedly failed to fulfil by pledging to take action in the “shortest possible time”. The true villains, who ministers are letting off scot-free, are the carmakers who cheated and dodged the emissions regulations that would have kept air pollution in check.
Charging or banning dirty cars entering city and town centres is relegated to the option of last resort and the responsibility of implementing these Clean Air Zones (CAZs) is also dumped on to councils, aiming to divert the flak from angry motorists towards town halls. Ministers know CAZs are the best option by miles: their own analysis shows they are 60 times more effective than a scrappage scheme. The scrappage scheme will give an entirely undeserved boost to car sales, while barely denting pollution.
In the government’s judgement, hidden in the new plan’s documentation, they are the “quickest, most cost-effective way” to tackle the problem. The government is already mandating CAZs in Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton, with London is getting one too. The millions of pollution-choked people living everywhere else will rightly ask why ministers refuse to do the same for them.