The drop in total carbon emissions from cars necessary to meet the UK’s net targets could be achieved without drivers travelling less overall, says a new report from the RAC Foundation. However, this will only happen if there is a significant shift from petrol and diesel to electric vehicles, it says.
The Climate Change Committee’s Balanced Net Zero Pathway plots a course to net zero that’s compliant with its Sixth Carbon Budget (2033- 2037). This requires annual CO2 emissions from cars to fall from about 57 million tonnes in 2021 to around 34 million tonnes by 2030 – a reduction of 40%.
Modelling by the foundation acknowledges existing government policies, such as the ban on the sale of new pure petrol and diesel cars from 2030, and the forthcoming Zero Emission Vehicle mandate (which requires a specified percentage of manufacturers’ new car and van sales to be zero emission each year from 2024).
However, it does not allow for any transformational shift in either the affordability of motoring or in public behaviours that might result from fresh policies yet to be announced.
In particular, the analysis looks at the complementary changes that would be needed in scenarios where car mileage does not fall. The modelling reveals that, if the total number of car-driven miles stays steady or continues to grow, then battery electric cars would potentially have to account for some 35% of the total car fleet in 2030 (around 13.5 million electric cars compared to a projected 38.6 million cars in total), and these would have to account for at least 37% of all car miles driven.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, suggested it was very unlikely that this target would be met.
“Based on current trends, getting the car fleet up to 35% pure battery-electric by 2030 without reducing driven miles looks like a monumentally steep challenge, like climbing Everest on a bad day,” he said.
The latest government data shows there are currently 33.2 million cars licensed in the UK of which 548,000 (less than 2%) are pure battery electric.
The RAC Foundation says that three key factors will determine whether the required cuts in carbon emissions are likely to be met:
Steve Gooding said: “From the point of view of the planet the next car people buy is critical. For those thinking of going electric but wavering, perhaps put off by the up-front price, there is a case for pausing to see how things play out in the next year or two, rather than falling back to petrol.”
He added: “Despite the challenge of austerity, if the Chancellor was canny he could use VED to push car buyers more firmly towards electric options, encourage petrol- car purchasers to choose models offering the best-in-class fuel- efficiency and in doing so actually raise some cash he could then use to cut the costs of electric motoring.”
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