The announcement this morning that the government will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 has been met with apprehension.
Environment secretary Michael Gove’s comments come as part of the government’s clean air strategy. According to the Royal College of Physicians, air pollution in the UK contributes to around 40,000 premature deaths per year.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We can’t carry on with diesel and petrol cars, not just because of the health problems that they cause, but also because the emissions that they cause would mean that we would accelerate climate change, do damage to our planet and to the next generation.”
But Gove’s comments generated a major backlash on social media, with some suggesting that the ban did not tackle the immediate threat posed by air pollution.
Former Labour leader and MP for Doncaster North Ed Miliband tweeted: “Fear that new car petrol/diesel ban in 23 years’ time is smokescreen for weak measures to tackle 40,000 deaths a year from air pollution now.”
Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, wrote: “Welcome start but need urgent plan to cut air pollution now – proper clean air zones, funded diesel scrappage, invest in public transport.”
Some, meanwhile, pointed out the change of heart towards diesel-powered vehicles, following vocal promotion of the fuel from previous governments.
Top Gear presenter and motoring journalist Chris Harris tweeted: “Government strategy: Buy a diesel. More diesel please. Diesel rocks. Actually, diesel’s bad. Electric’s the way. Not sure how we do it yet.”
Quentin Willson, co-partner of Fair Fuel UK, a campaign group that fights for lower fuel duty and more transparent pricing at the pumps, wrote: “So by 2040 no fuel stations, no garage repairs, no car parts suppliers and 15m diesels scrapped. Cost will be trillions.”
UK motoring organisations have also weighed in on the announcement. Nicholas Lyes, roads policy spokesman for the RAC, said: “The government signalling the end of the sale of conventional petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 is a bold move – but the reality is that the UK is nowhere near ready for such a sweeping shift to fully electric vehicles and a huge amount of work will need to be done to meet this deadline.
“There is little evidence to suggest that the UK’s energy infrastructure will be ready for the large-scale shift to electric vehicles, and it’s vital the energy used to power these vehicles comes from the greenest possible sources. Right now public charging facilities are patchy, there is very little on-street charging in residential areas and, unlike filling up a car with petrol or diesel, drivers cannot recharge a vehicle in a matter of minutes.”
Mike Hawes, chief executive of industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “Currently demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles is growing but still at a very low level as consumers have concern over affordability, range and charging points.
“Outright bans risk undermining the current market for new cars and our sector, which supports over 800,000 jobs across the UK, so the industry instead wants a positive approach which gives consumers incentives to purchase these cars.”