Britain joins the green wave in swearing off combustion engines
By RP Siegel — A surprising announcement has come out of London—to ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel-fueled cars and vans, beginning in the year 2040. The plan was announced in response to concerns about public health as the result of air pollution. Ministers claim that air pollution is the number one public health risk with costs in recent years reaching $3.5 billion annually.
The announcement is similar to the one made by France on July 6, but different in that, while the French ban was primarily intended to address climate change, with public health as a secondary benefit, the British ban is being framed more in terms of public health. The French announcement came just one day after Volvo announced that it would stop producing gasoline or diesel cars beginning in 2019. But while Volvo plans to continue making hybrid cars, along with all-electrics, the UK ban includes hybrids as well, as does the French plan. India has proposed a similar ban.
While the ban might seem like a drastic measure, many analysts, like Stanford economist Tony Seba, whose recent report predicts the collapse of internal combustion engine and the oil industry, said that “Banning sales of diesel and gasoline vehicles by 2040 is a bit like banning sales of horses for road transportation by 2040: there won’t be any to ban.”
Likewise, many in England felt the move would not produce results quickly enough. Some had lobbied for vehicles to be charged a fee in order to enter "clean air zones," but ministers have been reluctant to add new taxes and fees.
The plan will, however, contain $1.3 billion in funding for low-emissions vehicles including $131 million for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, as well as funds for low-emission taxis, buses, as well as measures to encourage cycling and walking.
Certainly, that’s far more than the US is doing at the Federal level for either climate change or air quality. The current administration keeps appointing oil industry insiders who can’t seem to roll back environmental regulations fast enough. But whether Britain’s plan is enough to actually address the problem is another question. Especially in light of a recent report from the Royal College of Physicians, that claims that air pollution in the UK, from both indoor and outdoor sources, are already responsible for as many as 40,000 premature deaths per year. Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable.
Areeba Hamid, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace did not think so. She told the Guardian, “The High Court was clear that the government must bring down toxic air pollution in the UK in the shortest possible time. This plan is still miles away from that. The government cannot shy away any longer from the issue of diesel cars clogging up and polluting our cities, and must now provide real solutions, not just gimmicks. That means proper clean air zones and funding to support local authorities to tackle illegal and unsafe pollution.”
A green wave has been sweeping across Europe, seemingly in an effort to double-down on the Paris Climate Accord after President Trump withdrew from the agreement, with multiple countries making major commitments that go beyond what had been pledged in 2015. At present, Norway is out front with the most progressive plan that will phase out sales of fossil-powered vehicles by 2025.
This news must indeed be sobering, not only for car companies, who now know what they need to do, but even more so for oil-exporting countries who might have fewer options. But with battery prices plummeting, the writing seems to be on the wall. Lithium battery prices are expected to drop another 75% by 2030, which will make electric cars, which have far fewer parts than their combustion counterparts, cheaper by 2025, if not sooner. While there are still concerns about charging times and range that fall short in current EV’s, the expectation is that the gap will close over time.
Also, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles which are more like fossil fuel cars with regard to those issues, shouldn’t be counted out either. FCV’s are otherwise really pretty much the same as EV’s with a high-pressure fuel tank and a cell that converts the gas to electricity instead of a battery. Being emission-free, they too would qualify under the new European rules. However, because they will likely continue to cost more, their use will likely be limited to larger trucks and construction vehicles.