UK unveils ambitious plan to go all-electric by 2040

United Kingdom road to zero UK electric vehicle 2040 ban petrol diesel car

A ban on the sale of high-polluting petrol and diesel-powered cars in favour of ultra-low emission electric vehicles is the cornerstone of a new initiative announced this week by the UK government to improve the adoption of green technologies across the country.

The government confirmed its ambitions to become the world’s leader in zero emission vehicle technology with the release of its Road to Zero strategy designed to cut the nation’s harmful emissions by 2030 and improve the number of low-emissions vehicles on the roads by 2040.

In unveiling the 46-point strategy, UK Transport Minister Chris Grayling said the wide range of initiatives and incentives being proposed places the government at the forefront of the global movement towards cleaner road transport technologies.

“The sales of ultra-low emission vehicles are increasing rapidly and countries, regions and cities across the world have announced long-term plans for cleaner road transport,” he said.

“By some estimates, ultra low emission vehicles will make up over half of global car sales by 2040 [which will mean] fundamental changes to the global automotive market and new opportunities for the UK.”

Out with the old, in with the new

Under the terms of Road to Zero, at least 50% of the UK’s conventional vehicles – excluding petrol and diesel-powered hybrid cars – will be phased out nationwide by 2030 to make way for new generation ultra-low emissions electric vehicles.

By 2040, the government expects all new cars and vans sold within the UK to “have significant zero emissions capability” and by 2050, almost every car to be zero-emission.

Road to Zero also includes a push for charge points to be installed in new-build homes and on street lamp posts throughout England, underpinned by a A$179 million Charging Infrastructure Investment plan to assist new and existing companies with their charge point installation requirements.

Another A$70m has been earmarked for the development and testing of new, cost-effective, on-street charging technologies, while a further A$8m will be used for an Onstreet Residential Chargepoint Scheme and provide funding to local authorities.

Critics question strategy timeframes

The Road to Zero strategy comes at a time when the UK government is being criticised for not doing enough to curb carbon emissions, and it appears to have already ruffled some feathers.

The original launch date was delayed by a dispute over which cars should be allowed to be sold after 2040, with the government finally confirming this month that hybrid cars and vans will be excluded from the ban.

The Green Alliance think tank has been quick to criticise the strategy’s timeframes, saying 2040 is “too late” for a total ban on conventional vehicles and claiming that an earlier deadline would provide more incentive to UK electric vehicle makers and put them on a par with the likes of Norway and Scotland, both of which have committed to the same ban by 2030.

Also in the environmental space, Friends of the Earth network challenged the strategy’s ability to effect real change, saying the UK is “dangerously behind target on cutting carbon” and that the proposal “while positive, will not get us back on track”.

The Campaign for Better Transport advocacy group echoed the belief that faster transitioning between high and low emissions technologies is required and suggested that “overall, the strategy fails to match the urgency of the situation”.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Greenpeace UK said the strategy is not ambitious enough, advising the government to “shift up a gear or this Road to Zero will start looking like a road to nowhere”.

A growing sector

Petrol and diesel vehicles have dominated worldwide automotive markets for over a century and have been reported to still account for more than 99% of global sales.

According to research by the UK’s RAC Foundation, electric vehicles made up only 5.5% of the UK’s new car market in the six months to June 2018, compared with 4.3% over the previous corresponding period – indicating a growing, albeit slow, trend away from consumer comfort zones towards low emissions vehicles.

“The coming decades are going to be transformative for our motor industry, our national infrastructure and the way we travel,” Mr Grayling said.

“The Road to Zero strategy sets out a clear path for Britain to become a world leader in the zero emission revolution, ensuring that the [our country] has cleaner air, a better environment and a stronger economy.”

Imelda Cotton has over 20 years experience as a journalist and communications professional. She has spent the bulk of her career in the resources sector, having also worked directly with oil and gas majors and as a journalist covering a vast array of ASX listed companies within the resources, energy, science and health sectors.