National Context and the Importance of ULEVs

The low emission vehicle industry is full of acronyms, policies, documents, strategies, announcements and resources, and often it’s hard to know where to begin. We’ve pulled together some of the most important policy-related information that should be considered when developing an ultra-low emission vehicle strategy.

Diesel exhaust

What are the Drivers of Low Emission Vehicle Policy?

We can broadly categorise the key drivers of low emission vehicle policy into four key factors:

Inward Investment

It is hard to name a manufacturer that does not sell a vehicle with some form of electrified or ultra-low emission technology. Conventional petrol or diesel vehicles are still very much the dominant powertrain, however with increased vehicle range and availability, the market share of electric vehicles is increasing. The UK Government is also committed to the clean air agenda, and placing the UK as the world leader in the design and manufacture of low emission vehicles.

Carbon Reduction

Transport represents around 26% of all carbon emissions and is one of the only sectors to be growing in output; all other sectors are decreasing. This is most likely due to increased demand for freight and logistics from online shopping, as well as a surge in the demand for larger SUV-style personal vehicles which have higher emissions.

Air Quality

With reports from the Royal College of Physicians claiming that poor air quality contributes to 40,000 preventable deaths a year, and an increased public awareness of the effects of poor air quality, steps need to be taken to bring the UK into the legal nitrogen dioxide limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3). The increased push for diesel vehicles helped to reduce CO2 level in towns and cities, but increased NO2 and Particulate Matter (PM) levels, which are linked to respiratory problems.

Energy Security

With fluctuating oil prices, and increased demand for the Earth’s precious resources, sources of renewable and sustainable power are at the forefront of the energy sector. As well as providing opportunities to be powered from renewable sources, Electric Vehicles may play an important role in balancing power demand on the grid in the future, offering opportunities for energy storage.

What are the key policies and strategies to refer to?

In July 2017 the UK Government released the UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations, commonly referred to as the ‘NO2 Plan’. The strategy aims to deliver cleaner air in the shortest possible time, and names Authorities that are likely to exceed the European and national guideline annual mean limit value for NO2 levels, which is 40 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3).

The original strategy included six Local Authorities (London, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (and a single stretch of road in the New Forest)) who have been told to implement air quality improvement strategies, including Clean Air Zones.

Client Earth took the Government to court as they were unsatisfied with the results and data analysis in the original report, resulting in the second (and after more court action, a third) iteration of the report to include:

  • Wave 2 – 23 Authorities that are required to produce a local action plan and take action to bring themselves into the legal compliance.
  • Wave 3 – 45 Authorities (& 6 devolved administrations) who are not required to conduct a detailed study but may need to take action to avoid breaking the limit.

In July 2018, the Road to Zero strategy was published. This strategy, which is technology neutral, sets out the UK’s ambition and a roadmap/policy for transport to decarbonise. The main aim is to put the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacture of zero emission vehicles and for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040. The 2040 target can actually trace routes back to announcements as early as 2011.

Finally, in January 2019, the Clean Air Strategy was launched, a cross-industry strategy that sets out our plans for dealing with all sources of air pollution, making our air healthier to breathe, protecting nature and boosting the economy.

The Climate Change Act

The UK’s Climate Change Act requires us to reduce emissions by at least 80% against 1990 levels by 2050, although in June 2019 the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced that greenhouse gas emissions in the UK will be cut to almost zero by 2050, under the terms of a new government plan to tackle climate change.

The actual terminology used by the government is ‘net zero’ greenhouse gases by 2050.

That means emissions from homes, transport, farming and industry will have to be avoided completely or – in the most difficult examples – offset by planting trees or sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Scotland has already committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045, five years ahead of the UK government’s target.

Climate Emergencies: ‘Net Zero’ and ‘Carbon Neutral’ verses ‘Zero Carbon’

Following on from the IPCC report, over 220 local authorities have declared a climate emergency.  Local authorities have either set carbon neutral or net zero targets, which involve balancing the amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset, or buying enough carbon credits to make up the difference.

A few local authorities have gone a step further and set zero carbon targets, which means they will make all their operations carbon emission free or have set a target wider than their individual authority and aim to make their city or region carbon neutral.

The timescales for these targets range from 2020 to 2050. Some examples include:

  • Nottingham City Council has declared it will be carbon neutral by 2028.
  • Greater Manchester Combined Authority has declared that the whole city region will be carbon neutral by 2038.
  • Winchester City Council has set a target that aims for council operations to be carbon. neutral by 2024 and for the wider district to be carbon neutral by 2030.
  • Durham County Council has declared it will be zero carbon by 2050.

Clean Air Zones: In a nutshell…

A Clean Air Zone (CAZ) is an area where targeted action is taken to improve air quality, in particular by discouraging the most polluting vehicles from entering the zone. They are a temporary measure to bring an authority into the legal limit for NO2.

No vehicle is banned in the zone, but those which don’t meet the emissions limits will have to pay a daily charge if they travel within the area. Costs vary, from anywhere between £8 to £100 per day depending on vehicle make, age and model.

For a live map of the Clean Air Zones visit the BVRLA website: https://www.bvrla.co.uk/resource/cazmap.html

Changes to Driving Licences

Battery electric vans are much heavier than their petrol or diesel equivalents, meaning previously it put ULEV vans over the weight limit for a normal driver. However, Category B driving licence holders can now drive alternatively-fuelled vans that weigh up to 4.25 tonnes (an increase from 3.5 tonnes) after a five-hour training course.

Deal or No Deal: will we still care about emissions targets after Brexit?

If there is a No Deal Brexit there is a Section 106 that sets out the commitment to maintain the national levels and targets for air quality, although we would no longer have access to the EU Emissions Trading System (this mainly affects aircraft and air travel).

Disclaimer (!) – With Brexit announcements occurring daily this information can be outdated very quickly. We will update this section as often as possible.


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