United Kingdom advances to 2030 the ban on the sale of gasoline and diesel cars | Climate and Environment


A traffic jam on a London road.
A traffic jam on a London road.SIMON DAWSON / Reuters

Boris Johnson has decided to cling to the “green revolution” to rescue the British economy from the current crisis and the uncertainty that Brexit will bring at the end of the year. The star measure of the 10-point plan that the prime minister has unveiled this Wednesday will be to bring forward to 2030 – five years before the scheduled deadline – the ban on selling new gasoline and diesel cars. Hybrid vehicles may continue to be purchased until 2035, under the condition that they are prepared to offer a “relevant” range with zero emissions (the British Government has suggested, without specifying, a minimum of 50 kilometers). Regarding diesel trucks, Downing Street is committed to opening a public consultation phase with major industries to also design a phase-out plan.

With this proposal, which still requires a lot of concreteness, the United Kingdom is among the most ambitious countries on the path towards electrification of transport, a key sector in the fight against climate change and against the serious problems of urban pollution. Johnson has taken the baton from his predecessor, Theresa May, and remains committed to reaching zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. “Green economy and growth can go hand in hand. Let’s face the most serious threat against our planet with one of the most innovative and ambitious job creation programs ever known ”, the prime minister wrote in a rostrum published by Financial Times. Johnson assures that with the planned investment, more than 13,000 million euros, the British Government will be able to create 250,000 new jobs.

The British Government announced in February that the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars would be banned in 2035, which was five years ahead of the plan set by the United Kingdom in 2017. Now, only nine months after the last announcement , Johnson takes another turn of the screw and advances the date another five years.

“It is a very important signal for the industry”, highlights Carlos Bravo, member of the organization Transport & Environment, a federation specialized in sustainable transport of which fifty European NGOs are members. “Electromobility is accelerating,” adds Bravo. Also, sales. JATO Dynamics Analysts highlighted a few weeks ago that the registrations of hybrid cars in the 27 EU countries had surpassed those of diesel cars for the first time in history in September. Although it is true that this phenomenon occurs in a context of collapse in sales in general —almost 30% have fallen in the first nine months of the year—, analysts agree on the change in trend that has already begun.

Paradoxically, this shift towards emission-free mobility may even be accelerated by the economic crisis generated by the COVID in many countries, as their governments are announcing recovery plans that include, for example, economic support to boost electric cars. . Added to this is the increasing competitiveness of this type of vehicle. “The industry is clearly focused on electric models. Price parity with combustion cars is expected to be reached in 2023 and 2024, ”says Bravo. To that would be added the savings due to less maintenance and electrical charges.

Although it is one of the countries that have set a more ambitious goal, the UK movement is not isolated in the world. Other countries have already marked vetoes of combustion cars on the calendar. France has set the date for the end of the registrations of this type of vehicle to be 2040. The same that is established in the climate change law that is now being processed in the Spanish Parliament, although the text refers in this case to the veto to all non-zero emission cars.

This rule is now in the amendment phase and several environmental groups, such as the NGO to which Bravo belongs, have proposed advancing the ban to 2035. “If the average life of a car in Spain is 15 years, we must prohibit its sales in 2035 so that in 2050 there will no longer be combustion cars circulating ”, says Bravo. Spain has just approved its long-term decarbonization strategy that sets climate neutrality as a goal for 2050, that is, the country will only be able to emit the amount of greenhouse gases that its sinks (mainly forests) can absorb. And that requires cleaning the transport sector of emissions.

The British Government’s plan can also accelerate the process in Spain towards electric mobility. “The United Kingdom imports 11% of the cars that are manufactured in Spain”, warns Bravo. “This is a clear signal to the Spanish industry.” When the first texts of the climate change law were presented two years ago, the manufacturers’ employers protested against the veto of 2040; this position seems to have already changed.

Wind, nuclear and carbon capture

The plan announced by Johnson goes beyond the veto of combustion engines. It also includes measures related to the promotion of renewable energies, especially wind power. The United Kingdom is already one of the countries in the world that has bet more firmly on this resource. It has two of the five largest offshore wind farms. The Johnson government proposes to quadruple the production of this type of energy until reaching 40 gigawatts in 2030.

At the same time, as other great powers are doing, the plan is committed to boosting the generation of hydrogen, which has gained strength in recent years as a possible complement to renewables. The objective would be to increase the production capacity of this type of “low carbon” energy to up to five gigawatts. But environmental NGOs fear, however, that energy companies will use this objective as an excuse to continue with their exploration of natural gas if it is not clearly committed to generation through renewable sources.

Johnson’s proposal also involves maintaining the commitment to nuclear energy. The United Kingdom wants to develop a third generation of plants, as a “clean energy source”, with smaller reactors and more advanced technology. The problem, critics point out, is that this resource doubles, today, the cost of energy. And none of the reactors Johnson talks about has even been sold yet. The Rolls-Royce company has proposed to design a new model, but requires the previous order of 16 units, worth more than 35,000 million euros.

Another controversial measure is the promotion of carbon dioxide capture and storage, a technology that already exists but is now uncompetitive due to high costs. Johnson’s plan is to capture up to 10 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2030, to transform his country “into a world leader in the technology for capturing and storing harmful emissions into the atmosphere.” The first attempts to develop this strategy were suppressed in the bud by the government of conservative David Cameron, as a result of the austerity imposed after the financial crisis of 2008.

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