Climate Change Committee says half of all new cars must be BPVs (battery powered vehicles) by 2030 – even though a diesel-driven scrappage scheme would cut UK emissions by only 0.02%

More than half of all new cars in Britain must be battery-powered vehicles (BPVs) by 2030 to meet greenhouse gas targets, ministers have been warned.

And new homes also need to be built to a higher, low-carbon emissions, standard, according to the UK standing statutory Committee on Climate Change.

The committee wants up to 70% of new cars to be ultra-low emission by 2030, as well as up to 40% of new vans, as part of efforts to phase out sales of conventional petrol and diesel versions by 2040 in Britain.

Currently, fewer than 5% of new car sales are BPVs, which also includes hybrid models.

But – according to research recently published by the BBC – the scientific case for banning diesel-powered vehicles is very weak. The following extracts are from the corporation’s research:

What about paying for old cars to be scrapped?

According to its consultation, the government believes a so-called scrappage scheme would take 15,000 of the most polluting diesel and petrol cars off the road in a year.

Drivers would be given about £8,000 to switch to a fully electric alternative, meaning the government would have to fork out £110 million.

The impact on emissions of nitrogen dioxide would be to cut them by 0.02% – not a huge change in the grand scheme of things.

Why not ban the dirtiest vehicles from the most polluted roads?

Environmental campaigners believe creating what are termed “clean air’ or ‘low emission’ zones in the most polluted towns and cities is the most effective and speedy way of reducing emissions of nitrogen dioxide.

Councils will be able to impose these zones and will be able to block certain vehicles or impose a daily charge on drivers.

But the government hopes they won’t do this.

While its own research suggests low emission zones are the most effective means of getting emissions down – cutting them by 18% compared with 0.02% for a scrappage scheme – policy makers argue they are too blunt an instrument and can cause all sorts of complications for local areas.

For example, if a council in one town imposes a clean air zone and its neighbour doesn’t, will traffic (and the emissions they cause) merely move to the cheaper location?

Designating ‘low emission zones’ may also have other typically un-intended consequences.

For instance, Edinburgh council is planning to ban all diesel-powered taxis (both private hire mini-cabs and street-hire ‘black’ cabs) from 2020 as well as setting up a number of low emission zones in the city – such as for the ‘Corstorphine Corridor’ near the zoo.

But this may not only simply displace emissions to un-restricted areas – such as the nearby Gyle shopping mall – it may also strike another dagger into the economic heart of the high street as shoppers drive to out of down retail centres.

Instead, the government wants councils to target these roads with a range of other measures that cut nitrogen dioxide – including removing speed bumps and changing overly-long traffic lights and to create new ‘green-light’ left and/or right-turn filter lanes instead of ‘all stop’ traffic lights so that traffic is not slowing down or speeding up too much – ie over-revving diesel engines in low gears which accelerates emissions.

Does this mean London’s congestion charge will spread to other cities?

The government isn’t keen.

Establishing a clean air zone for which motorists would be charged to drive into could simply move the pollution problem elsewhere rather than solve it.

Policy makers believe that by targeting the 81 main roads around the UK that are the main cause of the problem, they can prevent the type of emissions transfer that could happen if one town has a low emissions zone and its neighbours did not.

What about aeroplanes? How much air pollution is caused by aircraft?

In the UK about 1% of nitrogen dioxide emissions are caused by aviation.

Far more emissions are caused by people driving to airports in their cars.

Reality Check: Does pollution cause 40,000 deaths a year?


Poor air quality is the “biggest environmental risk to public health in the UK” – thought to be linked to about 40,000 premature deaths a year – the government says.

Reality Check verdict:

The 40,000 figure for the UK stems from extensive research over decades in the US.

It’s a statistical construct – not a count of actual deaths in Britain.

There is no question that air pollution – which is caused by many factors – is a serious health problem but it’s difficult to assess its precise impact.

It is not possible to count the number of people who have died early as a result of pollution because nobody has ‘air pollution’ written as the cause of death on their death certificates.

This means that comparisons between numbers of people killed by air pollution and, for example, tuberculosis or malaria are generally bogus.

  • 18 Jan 2018

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