Ditch cars to meet climate change targets, say MPs

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People will have to get out of their cars if the UK is to meet its climate change targets, MPs say.

The Science and Technology Select Committee says technology alone cannot solve the problem of greenhouse gas emissions from transport.

It says the government cannot achieve sufficient emissions cuts by swapping existing vehicles for cleaner versions.

The government said it would consider the committee’s findings.

In its report, the committee said: “In the long-term, widespread personal vehicle ownership does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation.”

It echoes a report from an Oxford-based group of academics who warned that even electric cars produce pollution through their tyres and brakes.

The AA said the committee had underestimated the power of new technology to solve pollution in cars.

But the MPs are demanding improvements in public transport, walking and cycling, which benefit health as well as the climate.

They also criticise the government’s recent policies on the costs of transport.

They point out that most of the increase in average new car emissions in 2017 was caused by consumers choosing more polluting models because financial incentives to buy cleaner cars are insufficient.

Improving public transport

A government strategy should aim to reduce the overall number of vehicles required, the report says.

This would be achieved by:

  • Promoting and improving public transport
  • Reducing the cost of public transport relative to driving
  • Encouraging vehicle usership in place of ownership (car sharing, car hire and taxis)
  • And boosting walking and cycling.

Ministers have held down fuel duty increases in recent years following lobbying from motoring groups.

But the MPs say they should ensure that the annual increase in fuel duty is never lower than the average increase in rail or bus fares.

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Image caption The report says we should be cycling more

For drivers investing in electric vehicles there should be a better network of charging points.

But there’s a warning that more research is needed on the environmental impact of the batteries of electric vehicles.

The report warns: “Hydrogen technology may prove to be cheaper and less environmentally damaging than battery-powered electric vehicles. The government should not rely on a single technology.”

The AA’s president Edmund King told BBC News: “Stating that widespread personal vehicle ownership isn’t compatible with significant decarbonisation seems to be giving up on emerging science and technology.

“Technology is developing at a rapid rate with great potential from more efficient electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

“More emphasis should be going into renewable energy and greener vehicle production rather than higher fuel duty or banning hybrids, as the report recommends.

“The fastest growth in traffic is by vans due to internet deliveries so more technological effort should be put into decarbonising that sector as a priority.”

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Media captionNew backpacks monitor London’s air pollution

‘Not enough being done’

The MPs’ report stretches beyond transport to cover the whole economy.

Its general message is that not enough is being done to ensure that the UK achieves its recently-adopted Net Zero Carbon target by 2050.

The report says stamp duty should be increased for badly-insulated homes. Homebuyers should then be able to make improvements, and offset the cost with a stamp duty rebate.

Another idea in a wide-ranging document is for the UK to set a target for reducing the emissions embedded in the manufacturing process of the goods we buy from abroad.

This would prevent Britain from achieving cuts in greenhouse gases by exporting what’s left of its own polluting industries.

The MPs backed many of the recommendations of the government’s official advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change.

But they complained that its chair, Lord Deben, should have declared the interest of his consultancy firm in Drax power station, the largest recipient of renewable energy subsidies in the country, and Johnson Matthey, which is about to make a huge investment in electric vehicles.

A government spokesman said: “From transport to heating, electricity to agriculture, we are working to put in place the right measures to help us tackle global warming. We welcome the committee’s report and will consider its findings.

“We are going further and faster to tackle climate change than any other major economy having legislated for net zero emissions by 2050.”

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