Press Release

The UK aims for emissions-free roads, in world-first

July 14, 2021

The UK government’s Decarbonising Transport plan, announced today, is targeting having only zero-emissions vehicles on the UK’s roads - a world first.

No new fossil fuelled vehicles will be sold after 2040, with sales of smaller diesel trucks proposed to be banned from 2035, and larger ones by 2040. It follows a previously announced phase-out of new fossil-fuel cars and vans in 2035. The green group Transport & Environment (T&E) has welcomed the proposal as a ‘milestone’ in the shift to greener transport, but it warns more difficult decisions to reduce vehicle use and flying will still be needed to meet the UK’s ambitious climate goals.

Greg Archer, UK director of T&E, said: “This plan is a milestone in the shift to greener UK transport. The decision to only allow new zero-emission road vehicles from 2040 including large trucks is a world leading goal. It will significantly reduce Britain’s climate impact and improve the air we breathe.”

The UK has proposed that it will steadily increase the supply of electric cars through a zero emissions vehicles mandate requiring vehicle-makers to progressively increase sales of battery electric or hydrogen cars and vans until 2035. This will ensure that electric vehicles (EV) are affordable and will create well paid jobs in car and battery manufacturing, says T&E.

The proposal also intends to reduce vehicle use, particularly in cities. However, T&E is concerned that the policy announcements will not be enough to achieve the substantial emissions reductions needed by 2035, without the introduction of road pricing and far more investment in active and public transport. The government plans to review the National Policy Statement (NPS) – the UK’s £27bn road building programme – in what T&E says is an important first step towards directing investment to transport projects compatible with net-zero climate goals. But the government should immediately suspend work on major new road building schemes until the review is complete.

Greg Archer added: “This plan is an important first step towards decarbonising UK transport, but it is only the start. The UK’s ambitious climate goals will not be met unless the government converts its raft of new proposals into measures that rapidly change how people and goods move. Electrification of vehicles and the shift to sustainable fuels in aviation and shipping will progressively reduce emissions. But difficult choices, and not more roads or runways, will be needed to further reduce vehicle use, cap the number of flights, and reallocate spending towards green transport options.” 

The UK has also proposed that internal UK flights will have net-zero emissions by 2040; aviation will be included in the UK emissions trading scheme; and airlines will be required to use sustainable aviation fuels. But T&E warns much more still needs to be done to tackle international flights, which make up the vast majority of the UK’s aviation emissions. “The government remains in denial if it thinks it can achieve its climate goals while allowing aviation to expand above pre-pandemic levels,” says Archer.

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