The UK House of Commons released a new report last week on the nation’s obligations to improve air quality, mooting that ICE car sales should be banned sooner rather than later
The report is the result of a joint inquiry, launched in 2017 after concerns were raised regarding the government’s inadequate plans to reduce air pollution. UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights related to Toxic Waste, Baskut Tuncak, stated he was “alarmed that despite repeated judicial instruction, the UK government continues to flout its duty to ensure adequate air quality and protect the rights to life and health of its citizens. It has violated its obligations”.
The report has also reacted to figures published by Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, documenting how 40,000 lives are cut short each year because of air pollution and how the issue costs the UK economy GBP20 billion (US$28 billion). The RCP have applauded the report, calling it “groundbreaking”.
Among other recommendations, the report calls for the government to bring forward the end of diesel and petrol cars to before the current deadline of 2040. Policy Connect has said that ‘the [previous] pledge lacked ambition and was too distant to encourage earlier and more widespread adoption of ULEVs’. The UK is compared to other countries, including Norway, Scotland, India, and China, who all have promised deadlines nearer in the future. Implying a discord between the government’s ‘timid’ plans, limited action, and its desire to become a “world leader in low emission transport”, according to DEFRA’s report last year, this latest study is evidently hoping to spur on policymakers; it questions the current practice of working towards technical compliance rather than protection of public health.
The report also offers advice on how the government can increase and hasten the uptake of electric vehicles, including the development of a much larger and broader charging network that works strategically with areas of low EV adoption and poor air quality. Similarly, the government has been accused of lack of provision of on-street residential charging, especially for those without access to off-street parking. Separate councils also need to stop being so reluctant, the report stated, and that similar committee systems, such as planning permissions, have been hampering installation of appropriate levels of charge points.
Furthermore, the study demands that the government account for the production of energy to supply an increased uptake in EVs, adding that “it is important that the switch to electric vehicles does not simply move emissions from the tailpipe to power plants.”
Public opinion has also been considered. Incentives, such as a more beneficial and nationwide scrappage scheme, could “speed up this process [of EVs replacing polluting vehicle types] considerably.” Other than incentivising the move to electric, the government must also work on changing priorities. As mentioned, planning committees have been blocking the installation of charge points and, according to the Mayor of London, this happens because of objections from local residents.
Late last year, the UK government announced plans to budget GBP440 million (US$62 million) for research and infrastructure to support EV uptake, while taking advantage of the increase in more affordable electric cars and setting aside another GBP100 million (US$140 million) for incentives. However, several local councillors have called the levels of funding “insufficient” and arbitrarily governed; many councils recorded excessive levels of pollution, above regulations, but without any financial means to help the problem.
The report went on to suggest that the 2017 plan needs to be updated with further research, more measures to support local authorities, provision of low-cost solutions, and to increase the budget through charge point revenue.
Ultimately, the report is tough-talking but it will be interesting to see how policymakers react. Since publication, the Local Government Association has backed the study, with Environment spokesman, Councillor Martin Tett stating that it would “support a national campaign to raise awareness of air pollution issues, as well as calling for more support for measures to reduce congestion.”
Tett added that: “The 2040 target set by the Government for the end of the sale of conventionally-fuelled vehicles is too far away… It cannot overlook the immediate measures that could have drastic improvements on public health.”