Image shows trains at Kings Cross station

UK Road to Zero strategy falls short on air pollution

The UK Government’s Road to Zero strategy, which sets out how it will support the move to zero tail pipe emissions from road transport, overlooks key opportunities to tackle air pollution, say environmental lawyers ClientEarth.

The strategy, released this morning by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, is ambitious in its tone, and contains a welcome policy on charging infrastructure, but falls short when setting out the details.

Road traffic is a key source of illegal levels of air pollution in the UK’s towns and cities. This year ClientEarth won its third case against the government over air pollution and ministers are legally obliged to bring it within legal limits as soon as possible.

ClientEarth lawyer Katie Nield said: “This strategy overlooks some key opportunities the government has to bring down the illegal levels of air pollution across the country. The ban on selling anything other than ultra-low emission vehicles by 2040 and the interim targets revealed today, for example, seem to ignore that the government was ordered to clean up the air as soon as possible.

“We should be looking for ways to help people and businesses to move to cleaner forms of transport now.

“We welcome the government’s commitment to increase investment in charging infrastructure but this alone will not make the difference. We need a range of fiscal incentives that go well beyond the short extension to the existing plug-in car and van grant, which provides some financial support to purchase electric and hybrid vehicles. This will be key to improving take-up of zero emission vehicles.

“For example, the government could reform vehicle excise duty in favour of zero emission vehicles, and reform current company car tax structure to incentivise companies to buy these vehicles now.”

ClientEarth also wants to see a labelling scheme which tells consumers a vehicle’s real world emissions.

Nield added: “Clean air zones, which discourage the most polluting vehicles from entering the most polluted parts of towns and cities, will be more widespread across the country in the coming years as the government seeks to meet its legal duties on air pollution.

“Only today, Nissan has admitted to falsifying emissions tests in Japan. Consumers need to be able to buy a car confident that they won’t face driving restrictions in a few years because it is more polluting than they were led to believe.

“A labelling scheme based on real world emissions would allow people to make choices that are good for their pockets and the environment.”

In the meantime, ClientEarth favours a targeted scrappage scheme to help people move to cleaner ways of getting around, including buying ultra-low emission vehicles. This should be part funded by the car industry.

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Michał Parzuchowski