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For net zero, the UK needs the 2030 ban on petrol cars

We should not let the government’s mixed messaging distract us from progress on electric vehicles.

By Melanie Shufflebotham

The government has left companies and consumers confused this week about the planned 2030 ban on petrol and diesel cars. First, Rishi Sunak seemed to imply that the government would reconsider the ban. But on Tuesday 25 July Michael Gove said it was “immovable”.

In the meantime, the climate crisis is accelerating. It’s clear from the scenes of devastation around the world, those images of wildfires in Greece, that we’re entering a new and uncertain future, which means we need to act fast.

People are still debating potential solutions for different sectors, but we already have a proven technology for transport: electric vehicles (EVs). The 2030 ban, introduced by Boris Johnson in 2020, and the concerted effort to move to EVs for private and public transport, are both essential to the UK’s net-zero goals.

Road transport accounts for around 20 per cent of all UK carbon emissions. Switching to electric reduces a driver’s vehicle emissions by at least 50 per cent over its lifetime compared with a diesel vehicle, and this will improve further as the grid decarbonises.

Despite a recent onslaught of negative stories on electric vehicles from certain sections of the media, there’s already plenty of positive news. EV drivers are overwhelmingly happy with their choice – almost nine in ten are happy with their EV, compared with seven in ten drivers of an internal combustion engine vehicle, according to a report by Zenith, a vehicle leasing and management company.

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At the end of June 2023 there were more than 44,000 EV charging points across the UK in more than 25,000 locations – an impressive annual increase of 36 per cent in the total number of devices, according to our data at Zapmap. Last month alone, we added more than 1,600 to the Zapmap app, and many of these are the high-powered ultra-rapid chargers needed for longer journeys. And this doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of devices installed at people’s homes or at work, where drivers do most of their charging.

When the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles was brought forward to 2030, this was a real boost for the market. It helped small companies such as ours to secure investment that enabled us to continue to innovate, and it gave businesses and investors the confidence to commit to the sector. At the time, the UK was widely seen as consolidating its position as a global leader in the drive to net zero. Retreating from this commitment would be a major strategic error and threaten the essential transition to cleaner and greener transport.

Of course the ban is not the panacea, but it is a key enabler. There’s much more work to be done, but there’s broad consensus within the industry on where we need to focus – increasing the pace of charge-point installations, faster grid connections, lowering the cost of EVs and supporting people without off-street parking where they can have their own chargers, among other things.

We also need to reduce car demand itself by shifting to shared mobility solutions, including better public transport. The government needs to hold its nerve and must not give in to lobbyists of vested interests.

Without homegrown renewables and the electrification of vehicles (and other sectors), the UK will become increasingly vulnerable to global events outside of its control – including volatile oil prices. We’re already in a global race, and we are at risk of falling behind. The US, EU and China are pouring billions into their own automotive and mobility sectors as they pivot to renewables and work on creating the industries of the future.

Our own government needs to maintain the 2030 ban, and fully and unequivocally commit to the transition to EVs. Hopefully it’s Gove’s messaging on EV’s that will prove lasting.

[See also: The New Statesman view: a world on fire]

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Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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