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The Royal Commission on Pollution: 'Green' advances that are going to waste

First Edition The commission's report cries out for 'greener' cars, saying: 'Technology must be improved to cut fuel consumption and make vehicles less polluting.'

Yet the bulk of the technology for cleaning up motor vehicles already exists: it is just not being used. Diesel cars, catalytic converters, zero-emission cars and even the more exotic hybrid electric and gas-turbine engines are all here now, or only a few years away.

Neil Marshall, policy director of the Retail Motor Industry Federation, said advances in engine design were already cutting fuel consumption. Increasing intelligence in engine management systems over the next few years would take this forward, with computers making thousands of checks on performance every second.

The report sets car makers key 'green' targets, including stricter limits on emissions, targets for increased recycling and reductions in noise.

The Government, vehicle manufacturers and dismantlers should develop a cradle-to-grave strategy for recycling. The proportion by weight of scrapped vehicles recycled should rise from today's 77 per cent to 85 per cent by 2002 and 95 per cent by 2015.

This sounds tough, but Mr Marshall said a target of 90 per cent was achievable within 10 years. 'The goal should be to get away from oily breaker's yards to dealers where old cars can be recycled,' perhaps with a financial incentive for customers.

The report says the proportion of tyres recycled should rise from less than one-third at present to 90 per cent by 2015. It wants fuel efficiency of new cars improved by 40 per cent between 1990 and 2005 to help cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The proposed doubling of fuel prices by the same year should also act as an incentive to car makers to meet this fuel efficiency target, the report concludes.

The commission calls for incentives for operators of heavy vehicles to use natural gas as fuel in urban areas. Mr Marshall expected far greater use of such alternative fuels within the next five years. Excise duty should be cut for fuel-efficient cars and raised on those that are less efficient. Mr Marshall said a 20 per cent average reduction in fuel consumption should be achievable before the turn of the century. The commission called for a ban on unleaded super premium petrol and the amount of benzene in ordinary petrol to be limited to 1 per cent, recommendations that chime in with the transport select committee's report on Tuesday.