The new rules – which are part of the government’s long-awaited “transport decarbonisation plan” – mean that all new polluting vehicles will be phased out within the next two decades.
A ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 was announced in November under Boris Johnson’s 10-point climate plan.
Transport is the UK’s most polluting sector, accounting for around a third of the country’s CO2 emissions before the start of the pandemic.
“It’s not about stopping people doing things – it’s about doing the same things differently,” Grant Shapps, the UK’s transport secretary, said in a statement as the plan was announced on Wednesday.
“The transport decarbonisation plan is just the start – we will need continued efforts and collaboration to deliver its ambitious commitments, which will ultimately create sustainable economic growth through healthier communities as we build back greener.”
Other measures included in the UK’s blueprint for slashing emissions from transport include a pledge to reach “net-zero aviation emissions” by 2050 – with an aim of slashing emissions from domestic flights to net zero at an earlier date of 2040.
The plans to cut pollution from aviation are part of the government’s “Jet Zero” initiative, which has previously been described as unrealistic given that the technology to slash the climate impact of flying is still in its infancy.
“With aviation, the net zero targets are welcome, but getting there through technological advances alone is a very big bet on very long odds,” said Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK.
“If it happens, everyone will be delighted, but we need a mechanism to achieve those same emissions cuts if the advances don’t materialise, and that can’t be offsetting. Unless we’re very lucky, we’ll need some demand constraint – and it would be foolish of the government not to be planning that now.”
As part of the announcements, the government also said that it would switch its full fleet of 40,000 cars and vans to zero emissions vehicles by 2027 – three years earlier than planned.
Full details of the transport decarbonisation plan are yet to be released. It is one of several government strategies on tackling the climate crisis due to be released ahead of Cop26, a major conference being hosted by the UK in November.
Last month, the UK’s climate advisers warned that the government must quickly set out all its plans for how it will turn its lofty climate promises into action or risk failure at the talks.
Caterina Brandmayr, head of climate policy at the think tank Green Alliance, said the new ban on petrol and diesel heavy goods vehicles was “very encouraging”.
“The step up in ambition to ban the sale of all new polluting vehicles, beyond cars and vans, by 2040 is vital to address the largest source of transport emissions,” she said.
“We now need a range of concrete measures, including a mandate on manufacturers to sell clean vehicles, and clear interim targets to accelerate emission cuts across all parts of the country and put the sector firmly on track for net zero.”
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