Long (awaited) Road to Zero more winding than environmentalists would like

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The government’s long-awaited Road to Zero strategy to decarbonise transport emissions was released on 9 July, and while the previously touted 2040 date to phase out conventional petrol and diesel cars is included, the wording of the strategy does not match the previous messaging of an absolute ban on the vehicles, and hybrid cars will still be allowed to be sold.

The strategy was released after multiple delays, amid reports that there was some backsliding on the 2040 deadline; and amongst calls from business leaders and environmental groups that, if anything, this date should be brought forward.

The strategy says that the government’s ‘mission’ is for all new cars and vans in the UK to be ‘effectively zero carbon’ by 2040. It says that by 2040 the government expects ‘the majority’ of new cars and vans sold in the UK to be 100% zero emission, with all new cars and vans sold having ‘significant zero emission capability’.

It says that by 2050 the government ‘wants almost every car and van to be zero emission.’

By 2030 the government wants at least 50%, and up to 70%, of new car sales – as well as up to 40% of new van sales – to be ‘ultra low emission’ vehicles.

The government says it will review progress towards this set of ambitions by 2025.

The strategy says that the UK’s mission is to be at the forefront of the design and manufacturing of zero emission vehicles, and that the transition will be predominantly industry and consumer led, supported by public investment in R&D.

The ‘Road to Zero’ ties into the government’s wider
Industrial Strategy, and within it government sets out how it will work alongside industry, businesses, academia, consumer groups and devolved administrations to deploy ‘one of the best electric vehicle infrastructure networks in the world’.

‘The government‘s mission, as part of the modern Industrial Strategy, is to put the UK at the forefront of an industry that is estimated to be worth up to £7.6tn per year by 2050,’ said Chris Grayling, UK Secretary of State for Transport.

Specific measures in the technology-neutral strategy include a drive for electric vehicle (EV) charging points to be installed in newly built homes, and for new lampposts to include charging points.

The strategy comes with the launch of a joint public/private financed £400mn ‘Charging Infrastructure Fund’ to help accelerate the roll-out of EV charging infrastructure by supporting charge point providers. An extra £40mn programme will develop and trial innovative technology like wireless charging.

The measures follow government previously committing to investing £1.5bn on ultra low emissions vehicles by 2020.

Previously announced schemes are included, such as the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme, which gives householders £500 to install a charging point; while grants available for workplaces to install charge points will be increased. Plug-in car and van grants will continue at current rates (a maximum of £4,500) until October this year and ‘in some form’ until at least 2020.

Finally, the government has announced the launch of an ‘Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce’ to bring together energy and automotive expertise to assess and plan for the increase in demand on energy infrastructure that will result from a rise in the use of EVs.

On larger vehicles, the strategy says it will reduce emissions from heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) by introducing a voluntary, industry-supported commitment to reduce HGV greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by 2025, on 2015 levels. It will conduct a research project for future low emissions technologies for HGVs and undertake emissions tests on natural gas HGVs.

The launch of the strategy comes the week after
BP struck a deal to buy Chargemaster – the operator of the UK’s largest EV charging network.


Some commentators taking an inner-city view were not happy with the ambition of the strategy, along with environmental groups. ‘
It is extremely disappointing that the government have conceded to keeping hybrids on the roads, which waters down their already inadequate target to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040,’ said Labour’s London Assembly Spokesperson for the Environment, Leonie Cooper.

We urgently need the government to stop dragging their feet and put the measures in place to push through the wholesale transition to electric vehicles,’ she said. ‘With thousands of Londoners dying prematurely every year due to air pollution, we need much stronger assurances that the government are serious about taking the most polluting vehicles off our roads.’

Energy UK’s Chief Executive Lawrence Slade said: ‘[The document] highlights the huge environmental and economic benefits that will result from the UK leading the way on EVs – so it’s disappointing that it is not setting a more ambitious timescale.’

‘We – and many others right across industry and beyond – have made it clear that we are ready to go faster than the current 2040 deadline and seize the opportunity to help meet our emissions reduction targets and cut harmful air pollution in our towns and cities,’ he said. ‘In addition to the benefits of becoming a world leader in the technologies involved, EVs’ ability to store and supply electricity could have a transformative effect on the energy system itself.’

James Court, Head of Policy and External Affairs
at the Renewable Energy Association said: ‘Charging infrastructure is consistently stated as one of the biggest hurdles for consumers, and this strategy promises very welcome funding and new regulations for home, work and motorway charging.

He continued: ‘Electric Vehicles and charging infrastructure are key to the future decentralised energy system that will lead to a smarter, cleaner and cheaper market, but we need to make sure we are having a no regrets revolution, and that starts with ensuring we are putting in smart chargers that will give homeowners and the grid flexibility.’

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