Britain will ban the sale of new cars and vans using diesel and gasoline starting in 2040 as part of a sweeping plan to tackle air pollution that experts say is feasible, if ambitious.
The government announcement follows similar moves in France and Norway and comes amid a global debate on how quickly electric and hybrid cars can replace internal combustion engines. Traditional engines running on diesel and gasoline are still popular with consumers as they’re relatively cheap and do not face some limits of electric cars, such as a limited range.
But with the technology for electric and hybrid cars improving, governments are trying to set long-term goals to help guide the investments of automakers and, ultimately, consumers’ choices.
Britain’s government said it would put up 255 million pounds ($326 million) to help local communities address diesel pollution. The measures are part of a clean air strategy that authorities published only days before a deadline mandated by the High Court. The money is part of a 3 billion pound effort to clean up the air.
The government plan includes the consideration of a targeted scrappage scheme for drivers who need support and to provide an incentive to switch vehicles. It also aims for “almost every car and van on the road to be a zero emission vehicle by 2050,” the government said in its overview of the program.
Frederik Dahlmann, an assistant professor of global energy at Warwick Business School, described the plans as “ambitious but realistic.”
“I am confident enough that the industry will be able to respond within that timeline,” he said.
It would, however, require significant investment in in the infrastructure, such as a network of charging stations, that is required to make electric and hybrid vehicles more widely popular. Another point of focus is improving batteries so that they last longer.
While carmaker Volvo has committed to switching to only selling electric and hybrid cars within two years, most major manufacturers say that traditional engines will remain an important part of their sales for years.
On Wednesday, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said that diesel engines can help lower overall carbon dioxide emissions because they emit less than gasoline cars. Environmental activists note, however, that diesels emit more nitrogen oxide, which is harmful for people’s health.
So far, growth in electric and hybrid vehicle sales has been strong, but from a low base.
Analytics company IHS Markit estimate that sales of internal combustion engines are expected to fall from 17 million vehicles in 2015 across the EU to about 12 million in 2025, which would still make up a significant portion of cars on the road.
Meanwhile, sales of electric and hybrid cars are expected to increase from about 350,000 in 2015 to 1.85 million by 2025.
For every action there is a reaction. As has been the case with so many of the things we take for granted, such as air conditioning, our cars, even taking care of our lawns, I expect there will also be a downside, as yet undiscovered, to so-called zero emission vehicles. Whether in the air or the landfill, we’ll have to wait and see