UK government advisors call for net zero carbon by 2050 and ending fossil car and truck sales earlier

The UK Climate Change Committee, official advisers to the UK government, have recommended that Britain reaches net zero carbon emissions by 2050. In a comprehensive report it acknowledged emissions reduction policies would need to be significantly strengthened. These include considering moving forward the current target of 100% new electric vehicle sales by 2040 forward by up to a decade.

The committee highlighted that reductions in the costs of technology mean that the annual cost of meeting the target – up to 1-2% of GDP – is now similar to that of the original 60% target. In its response the UK government has indicated it wishes to be the first major country to legislate to achieve the target.

Meanwhile, an official advisory body to the UK government recommended a deadline of 2040 to end sales of diesel-powered trucks. It is thought to be the first time a state institution has recommended an end to sales of fossil-fuelled vehicles. T&E has welcomed the call, but says the proposed deadline of 2040 is likely to prove too late.

With the EU committed to reducing greenhouse gases to 80-95% of 1990 levels by 2050, member states are working to decarbonise road transport, which is a significant contributor to the EU’s emissions. Britain has already announced an end to sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040, but so far no plans have been made for trucks which carry much heavier loads than cars and are therefore dependent on different technologies.

In a report published last month, the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) said the government should ban the sale of new diesel lorries by 2040 ‘to provide the freight industry with the certainty it needs to invest in new, green technologies and prepare for an environmentally friendly future.’ The report is a response to a request by the British finance minister for the NIC to investigate the future of the freight industry.

Under the title Better Delivery: the chance for freight, it says the government’s first task is to prepare detailed assessments of the infrastructure needed to enable the uptake of battery electric or hydrogen lorries. It says the development of hydrogen and battery heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) is already well advanced, and such vehicles are expected to be commercially available in the early 2020s. So if charging is available at depots by 2025, there should be no need for new petrol and diesel HGVs by 2040.

T&E’s UK director Greg Archer said: ‘While we’re pleased that the National Infrastructure Commission is recommending a cut-off date, the fact that this refers to sales of vehicles that will have a lifespan of 10-20 years is effectively planning for diesel trucks after 2050, which is behind the clock in terms of fighting climate change. It also contradicts the NIC’s recommendation that the government should act to achieve decarbonisation of the freight sector by 2050.’

The freight sector accounts for around 9% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, but the growth of online shopping and its accompanying deliveries by road transport have raised fears that, without action, freight’s share could rise to 20%.

The National Infrastructure Commission was established in 2015 to offer independent and impartial advice to the government on meeting the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs.