UK has 'mountain to climb' to hit car emission target, MPs warn

Lack of charging points was earmarked by the committee as a potential issue with the transition to electric cars. Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

Lack of charging points was earmarked by the committee as a potential issue with the transition to electric cars. Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

UK MPs have called on the government to back up its targets for reaching zero-emissions in the car market, with a new report published on Wednesday saying current milestones will be a “huge challenge” without changes. 

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has argued that consumers will need to be convinced in an economic and social shift if the proportion of ultra-low emission cars on the road is to rise from 11% to 100% by 2035. 

“Achieving this ambition will require convincing consumers of the affordability and practicality of zero-emission cars, with up-front prices still too high for many in comparison to petrol or diesel equivalents, and addressing the current very uneven take-up across the UK,” the report said. 

The committee noted that the number of charging points is increasing rapidly, but many more will be required within a very short period of time to support the expected growth in electric cars in the UK. It said it is not convinced the government is on track to deliver charging infrastructure.

Transport is the UK’s largest source of carbon emissions, with road transport being a substantial contributor. 

Up to March 2020, the government had spent £1.1bn ($ 1.5bn) on a range of consumer grant schemes and an awareness campaign to encourage people to make the switch. 

This aim is not new; previous governments have been promoting ultra-low emission cars since 2011, with the Departments for Transport and for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy creating a team called the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles to support the transition. 

“The government has a mountain to climb to get to all new cars in the UK emitting zero carbon in the next 14 years: to convince consumers and make the cars appealing, to make the car industry environmentally and socially compliant, to build the necessary infrastructure to support this radical shift and possibly biggest of all, to wean itself off carbon revenues,” said Meg Hillier, chair of the committee. 

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“Yet once again what we’ve got is a government throwing up a few signs around base camp – and no let-up in demand for oversized, petrol-guzzling vehicles.

“This isn’t about more targets with no plan behind them inevitably getting missed – it’s about averting the real-world challenges that are bearing down on all of us. The government needs to get the country behind it and lead the way in the global race against climate change.”

Among recommendations for achieving its goals, the committee has suggested the government tracks the relative affordability of zero-emission vehicles compared to their petrol or diesel equivalents (comparing upfront costs and then running costs). 

It also suggests a good metric for progress would be the sales of ultra-low emission vehicles in the second-hand car market as a proportion of overall second-hand sales.

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Other things to monitor include the accessibility of charging infrastructure in each region/local authority area; and, the overall impact on carbon emissions from the UK car fleet.

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