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by GK Strategy 8th October, 2018

How far are we along the Road to Zero?

Like France, the Netherlands, Norway and many more countries, the UK has announced its commitment to end petrol car sales. As a part of its Modern Industrial Strategy, Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, launched a white paper named ‘Road to Zero Strategy’ on July 9th 2018. This paper confirmed the government’s ambitious plans to expand green infrastructure in the UK. It also highlighted its desire to advance the country’s position in the design and manufacture of zero emission vehicles.

40% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from the transport sector. There are strict legal carbon emissions targets, so the decarbonisation of the transport sector is key to meeting them. These targets include air quality and climate change goals. The Road to Zero Strategy aims to replace the sales of fossil fuel powered vehicles with effectively zero emission cars and vans by 2040. This is in alignment with the Government’s Air Quality Plan.

Revolution

At a recent event held by Bright Blue’s Environment & Energy think forum, industry experts and politicians highlighted the need for an entire technology change within the sector to tackle the carbon emissions challenge. Attendees at this event argued that Electric Vehicles (EVs) are key to revolutionising the transport sector. However, there are concerns about long recharging time and the as yet insufficient EV charging infrastructure throughout the UK. These issues are slowing down the growth of EV popularity. The Government have sought to tackle this with a proposed £1.5bn investment in the sector. They have put a particular focus on improving and installing more charging points. Despite this, environmental costs still exist. This is because some of the electricity which powers EVs comes from coal. Furthermore, lithium and ion batteries are also problematic due to the ecological toxicity they cause.

Alternatively, as highlighted by a new report by Policy Exchange, hydrogen powered fuel cell electric vehicles (HPFEVs) also have the potential to help the UK overcome its carbon emission challenges. Within the UK, the North East of England and Scotland are the most suitable places to create a decarbonised hydrogen production hub. However, without significant investment and central coordination, the cost of hydrogen production would remain high and the mass market unreachable.

The hopes its strategy of increasing the supply of low carbon fuels, continuing to offer grants for plug-in vehicles, creating the biggest increase in public investment in R&D and collaborating with Institute of the Motor Industry to guarantee that the UK’s workforce is well trained will encourage a shift in industry and consumer behaviour.

Changing attitudes

There does already seem to be success in changing attitudes. For example, the world’s first Zero Emission Vehicle summit, held in Birmingham in September, succeeded in bringing together leaders from over 40 countries to create a zero-emission future for transport.

However, there are still several issues – in particular the failure of integrated transport at a local level. This is caused by an unnecessarily complicated infrastructure. As yet, the sector is not entirely state led. Industry experts like Stephen Joseph, an advisor at Campaign for Better Transport, advocate for more coordination from the government’s side. The creation of a Department of Electric Vehicles would improve co-ordination and harmonize regulation nationwide. However, the creation of such a department is very unlikely.

Although the strategy demonstrates the Government’s devotion to decarbonising the transport sector, we are far from a clear, workable solution to all problems. Most think that the white paper is a good starting point, but the UK should be more ambitious.  The 2040 ban has been criticized by being far behind the international standard for example. Therefore, the Government’s should reconsider its targets. Perhaps a goal of 2030 to ban the sales of fossil fuel vehicles would be better, as Dustin Benton, the Policy Director of Green Alliance suggested. Other electric car experts support this idea – maybe the UK government should get behind it too.

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By Réka Nagy, intern

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