On July 26, the UK’s Environment Minister, Michael Gove, unveiled plans to ban the sale of new petrol or diesel fuelled vehicles from 2040, with an eventual aim to drive them off the roads altogether by 2050. The announcement follows a similar proposal by France’s environment minister several weeks ago, demonstrating the growing resolve among governments across the developed world to cut carbon emissions.
As part of its manifesto for the recent election, the UK’s ruling Conservative Party had included a pledge to make “almost every car and van” emission free by 2050. However, the plans outlined by Gove go even further: as well as banning all new vehicles – rather than most – Gove said the government plans to make £200m ($260m) available to local authorities to fund schemes minimising the presence of diesel cars on the roads.
The carbon emissions from diesel and petrol vehicles dramatically impact air quality, and the UK Government has been under increasing pressure to reduce air pollution after losing a series of legal actions by campaign groups. In January, air pollution in London surpassed that in Beijing, highlighting the need to shift to cleaner electric vehicles.
Air pollution in London has surpassed that in Beijing, highlighting the need to shift to cleaner electric vehicles
Attempts to design a mass-market electric car have been underway since the early 2000s, but companies have struggled to design cost effective models capable of reaching the high speeds and tackling the long journeys petrol and diesel alternatives can.
Efforts to replace emission-producing vehicles were initially led by Elon Musk’s California-based outfit Tesla, which developed the first highway legal, all-electric car in 2008, and began the production of its first mid-priced electric vehicle this month.
Now, European automotive companies are seeking to gain on Tesla’s head start, investing heavily in electric vehicle production facilities in recent months. In May, Daimler AG, the company behind Mercedes-Benz vehicles, began constructing a €500m ($562m) lithium battery plant in Germany, Europe’s traditional home of automotive production.
Sales of electric cars in the UK grew by 30 percent in the first half of this year, but still account for a tiny percentage of the market as a whole, with only five percent of new registrations electric.