The Joint Select Committee report into Air Quality has recommended that conventional petrol and diesel cars should be phased out before the current target date of 2040.
A feasibility assessment is recommended to determine the earliest date by which this could be achieved. A scrappage scheme is also proposed, along with the acknowledgement that charging infrastructure needs to be improved.
The recommended actions are due to air pollution being seen as a ‘national health emergency’, resulting in an estimated 40,000 early deaths each year, costing the UK £20bn annually.
The Environment, Health, Transport and Environmental Audit committees (this is the first time that these four committees have collaborated, reflecting the ‘joined up thinking’ needed to address the problem of air quality) want a new Clean Air Act – and a clean air fund financed by the motor industry. How this would work is not clear. Would all manufacturers pay towards this? At the same rate? What about EV-only car companies such as Tesla? Would this be yet another tax added to diesel cars?
The report also says that improvements to air quality can only be sustained by co-ordinated cross-departmental action on policy development, legislation, taxation and spending. And local councils are also being encouraged to draw up their own air quality plans.
Moving away from petrol and diesel cars at a faster rate would need financial incentives and a better alignment between the tax regime and efforts to improve air quality. Yet company car benefit in kind tax on cars with emissions of 0-50g/km of CO2 (ie. primarily pure electric vehicles) will rise from 9% in 2017/18 to 13% in 2018/19 and 16% in 2019/20, before reducing to 2% (depending on electric mileage range) in 2020/21. This discourages company car drivers to buy an ultra-low emission vehicle until April 2020 (read more: https://www.greencarguide.co.uk/2018/03/spring-statement-confirms-tax-measures-discourage-adoption-low-emission-vehicles/). So the joined-up government thinking certainly isn’t there yet.
The current growing awareness over air pollution has been heightened by reports about diesel emissions, and the government’s series of defeats in the courts over EU regulations governing Nitrogen Oxide (NOX) emissions. Environmental lawyers ClientEarth recently won a third round of legal action against the Government’s air quality plans. The government is due to publish a clean air strategy later this year.
Other recommendations in the report include that there is an urgent need for a national information campaign providing clear messages about the risks of air pollution and the actions people can take. This campaign should be run by Public Health England, and implemented no later than September 2018.
The report also states that improvements to air quality can only be sustained by co-ordinated cross-departmental action on policy development, legislation, taxation and spending. Defra and the Treasury are not demonstrating the firm leadership needed to achieve this, and it is unclear that the Inter-Ministerial Group on clean growth has demonstrated sufficient progress either. The remit of the Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) should therefore be expanded to meet this need.
Other interesting extracts are as follows:
The health impacts of poor air quality cost the UK an estimated £20 billion per year. We are not convinced that HM Treasury is taking sufficient account of this when establishing taxation and spending policy. We are also concerned that current fiscal incentives for CO2 and NO2 reduction are disjointed. The Treasury must take greater account of the costs of air pollution when establishing taxation and spending policy. It must explore how existing policies to achieve CO2 reductions can be combined with air quality targets—particularly NO2 and particulate matter—to produce a single instrument that delivers on both. The Treasury could begin by examining the feasibility of incorporating harmful pollutant emissions into vehicle taxation. The Treasury should update us on progress in the Government’s response to this Report.
We recommend the Treasury introduces more ambitious measures to encourage the take-up of low emission vehicles. This should include a revision of Vehicle Excise Duty rates to better incentivise both new purchases and support the second-hand market.
There is insufficient urgency in current policies to accelerate vehicle fleet renewal. Whilst we welcome the Government’s commitment to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040, this target lacks sufficient ambition. It is too distant to produce a step-change in industry and local government planning, and falls far behind similar commitments from other countries. The Minister believed the UK could phase out conventional cars before 2040, and this ambition should be reflected in the Government’s policy targets.
The Government should bring forward the date by which the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars will be ended. The Government should conduct a feasibility assessment to determine the earliest date by which this could be achieved, balancing the health impacts of air pollution with economic and practical considerations. We expect the Government to then require manufacturers to end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars by this earlier date. The Government should inform us of the outcome of its assessments in response to this Report.
The Government should set out a procurement route map to show how it will achieve this target in the Budget, and extend this commitment to cover the fleets of all departments, agencies and public bodies.
We welcome the Government’s optimism that ULEV targets will be met. This now needs to be translated into concrete action. The current pace of change is far too slow and we have no confidence that there will be adequate infrastructure to support the UK’s rapid transition away from polluting vehicles without substantial efforts from both central Government and local authorities. The Government should work with National Grid and local authorities to identify the key practical barriers preventing a more rapid roll-out of charging infrastructure, and provide details and timescales of how these will be overcome in response to this Report. Local authorities also need to be clear that they should be facilitating the switch to ULEVS as far as possible. This should be clearly communicated to residents and planning committees.
We are not convinced that the existing framework for delivering charging infrastructure adequately addresses strategic priorities. The DfT should work with Defra and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that charging infrastructure addresses strategic needs and prioritises air quality hotspots. A technology-neutral approach must be maintained whilst ensuring these systems are future-proofed and capable of handling increases in usage and larger battery sizes.
The current rate of renewal of the UK fleet means it will be many years before ultra-low emission vehicles replace all of the most petrol and diesel polluting vehicle types. A national scrappage scheme could speed up this process considerably. Any scrappage scheme must include provisions to support low-income drivers and small businesses. The Government should focus on reducing vehicle use and encouraging public transport use where practical, rather than simply switching to alternative vehicle types. Therefore any scrappage scheme must be accompanied by a suite of additional measures and not implemented in isolation.
Defra must publish its analysis of the scrappage consultation responses as soon as possible. It should provide details of the fiscal measures it would take to fund any scrappage proposals and the value for money this represents. The Government should also work closely with private scrappage providers to ensure that existing schemes do more to target support at low-income households and small businesses.
Read the Joint Select Committee report into Air Quality here: