Road to zero emissions: A slow start, the pace must now quicken

A year and a day ago today the government’s Road to Zero strategy was issued, which was largely criticised for not going far enough to tackle surface transport emissions. Today’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) publications concludes that the government must try harder, much harder, if net zero targets are to be met, with policies to reduce surface transport emissions lagging well behind where they need to be.

In the last couple of years emissions from surface transport have eclipsed both the power and industrial sectors and have seen a marked increase since 2013, largely down to cars and vans sold in 2017 and 2018 being less carbon-efficient than in previous years as consumers purchased larger vehicles and moved away from diesel. Electric vehicle (EV) sales were below CCC projections too.

The slowing in uptake of EVs may be attributable to the reduction in grant funding introduced by the government in November 2018, although the CCC states it is too early to definitively draw this conclusion. But the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Chief Executive Mike Hawes was more certain and stated on 4 July that the sale of alternatively fuelled car sales “are now being undermined by confusing policies and the premature removal of purchase incentives”.

The SMMT’s own figures for new car registrations in June 2019 show that while EV sales as a class fell year-on-year, battery EV (BEV) sales rose by over 60%, albeit the growth is modest in absolute terms: 11,975 new registrations for the year to date in 2019, compared to 7,420 for the comparable period in 2018. To put this in perspective over one and a quarter million new cars were registered in the first half of 2019.

Despite the splutter off the line on the road to zero, we should not conclude that all efforts have stalled. Jaguar Land Rover’s announcement that it will build EVs at its Castle Bromwich plant and produce 150,000 units from 2020 at its new Battery Assembly Centre at Hams Hall is a hugely positive step forward for the EV sector in the UK. Too late for today’s CCC scorecard, HM Treasury issued this morning its decision to remove company car tax from all zero emissions cars in 2020-21, with rates set at 1% in 2021-22. We have also seen OLEV mandate that all government funded home charge points (backed by the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme) will now need to adopt smart technology, meaning they can be remotely accessed and capable of interacting with signals. Despite the splutter off the line on the road to zero, we should not conclude that all efforts have stalled. Despite the splutter off the line on the road to zero, we should not conclude that all efforts have stalled. Jaguar Land Rover’s announcement that it will build EVs at its Castle Bromwich plant and produce 150,000 units from 2020 at its new Battery Assembly Centre at Hams Hall is a hugely positive step forward for the EV sector in the UK. Too late for today’s CCC scorecard, HM Treasury issued this morning its decision to remove company car tax from all zero emissions cars in 2020-21, with rates set at 1% in 2021-22. We have also seen OLEV mandate that all government funded home charge points (backed by the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme) will now need to adopt smart technology, meaning they can be remotely accessed and capable of interacting with signals.

These are small steps up a mountain that gets steeper with time. The CCC’s publications today really makes it clear that the journey along the road to zero must be more compressed and ambitious than envisaged just a year ago, perhaps banning conventional car and van sales by 2030 rather than 2040. Whilst the current stasis in government persists, getting to decisions on these bigger ticket issues is likely to prove difficult, but in these circumstances fiscal measures and regulation continuing to make incremental differences to the general direction of travel are at least something. The pace will need to quicken for certain, but these and other measures mean it not will be from a standing start.

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