Government fails to offer incentives for green motorists

Some countries make it pay to have an environment-friendly car. Why can't the UK? David Prosser reports

t has been another bad week for the environment. Not only did a Government report warn that concentrations of greenhouse gases may be doing more damage than previously believed, but ministers also accepted that there is little chance of cutting emissions to below dangerous levels.

Campaigners are becoming increasingly frustrated with the UK's failure to tackle climate change. The latest controversy is the lack of financial incentives for motorists who do their best to limit their impact on the environment.

"We are desperate to see incentives to persuade more people to buy smaller cars and drive less often," says Steve Hounsham, of Transport 2000, the group that campaigns for a more sustainable transport policy. "Over the past eight years, the real cost of motoring has fallen, while the cost of public transport has risen, and we must address that using the tax system."

What really infuriates many drivers is that the financial help available for greener motorists has actually been reduced in recent times. For example, the Powershift grants for drivers who convert their engines to run on liquid petroleum gas (LPG) have disappeared - chiefly thanks to a continuing stand-off between the Government and the European Commission.

Until March 2004, drivers who wanted to convert their cars to allow them to run on LPG could apply for a £1,000 grant from the Energy Saving Trust (EST), a Government-backed agency. The aim was to encourage wider take-up of LPG, which produces lower carbon dioxide emissions than traditional fuels.

However, almost two years after the EST was forced to review the scheme, in order to comply with European Commission rules on state aid, the grants still have not been brought back. "We've been working with the Department of Transport but we still have not won EC approval for the scheme," says Leander Clark, of the EST. "It's extremely frustrating because it's not something we have any control over."

Jon Nicholson, who runs the Bio-Power network of bio-fuel producers, is similarly fed up. "If the Government wanted to, we could replace the fossil-fuel petrol industry within 10 years, but there are too many vested interests," he says. Nicholson's colleagues mostly produce bio-fuels from waste vegetable oil. Most cars that currently run on diesel can be modified to use the fuel, drastically reducing carbon emissions.

In order to promote the use of bio-fuel, the Government offers a lower duty rate to users - 27p of tax per litre, rather than the usual 47p - but bio-fuel producers are furious about the way the system works. Only fuel that has been produced using a very specific process, known as trans-esterification, qualifies for the reduced rate. This process requires energy, which means the fuel is less environmentall-friendly than it would be in a purer form.

In any case, Nicholson points out that in countries such as Germany, all bio-fuel is tax-free and has been widely taken up.

"In all other nations in Europe there is no specific tax for bio-fuels, there is only a tax on mineral fuels," he says. "Instead, Britain has provided a tax break on bio-fuels that meet certain technical criteria, but these criteria do not relate in any way to the actual environmental benefits achieved."

The rules make it very difficult for smaller providers to qualify for the tax break, let alone individual motorists who could produce their own bio-fuel with the use of waste oil.

Charities such as Friends of the Earth argue that technical squabbles such as the bio-fuel argument send the wrong message to motorists. Road transport emissions are up 50 per cent since 1990 and account for a quarter of Britain's carbon emissions.

"This is all about the financial signals that drivers get from the Government," says Tony Bosworth, of Friends of the Earth. "We need to get people to drive smaller and more efficient cars."

Friends of the Earth wants the Government to increase the differentials between the different rates of road tax charged to drivers. Currently, motorists pay between £65 and £170 in tax each year, depending on the emissions from their vehicles - but the car tax bands only increase in value by around £10 a time.

"The Department of Transport's own research shows that if the difference topped £100 for each indvidual band, that would make half of all motorists change their purchasing decisions," Bosworth says.

Five cost-free steps to greener motoring

Watch the speedo: cars create most pollution at speeds of under 15mph - up to 60mph, your pollution reduces, before increasing again at higher speeds.

Be efficient: take off roof-racks, which create drag, when they're not needed. Keep windows closed and remove unnecessary luggage. This will reduce petrol consumption.

Keep your distance: sharper braking wastes fuel.

Maintain your car: have the engine tuned, change air filters and keep the tyres pumped to maximum pressure to reduce fuel consumption.

Switch off: electrical items - particularly air conditioning - dramatically increase fuel consumption. Don't use them if you don't need them.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

    Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 busi...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent