Tuesday 25th October 2016                 Change text size:

Should petrol and diesel cars be banned?

Photo: Håkan Dahlström via flickr

By 2040, all petrol and diesel cars may be banned from UK roads – according to a recent Lib Dem proposal. This controversial idea, which was discussed at the party’s conference in Glasgow recently, will mean that drivers (excluding those using freight vehicles) will only be permitted to use ultra-low-carbon cars such as hybrids or electrics.

The ban is part of a larger vision for the future – that of a zero-carbon Britain. As well as removing petrol and diesel vehicles from the roads, it includes plans for road pricing in congested areas, investment in low-carbon technologies and infrastructure, and a target to halve total energy demand by 2030.

But will it work? And even if it does – how much of a positive impact will it have?

Who are the proposals going to affect?

These proposals will affect almost everyone. According to DVLA reports, there are 28.7m cars on the road and whilst there has been an increase in the number of low-emission vehicles, in 2012 over 99% of newly registered vehicles were petrol or diesel.

Of course, by 2040 many of these vehicles will be on the scrapheap. However, these figures show that the UK still has a very long way to go where the environment is concerned. For many, the switch from fossil fuels to low-carbon technologies is a major lifestyle change and this impacts the number of people committing to environmental transportation.

What’s the alternative to petrol and diesel? 

In the UK, the two biggest alternatives are electricity and LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) – a mix of butane and propane. LPG is cheaper than both petrol and diesel and the good news is that petrol cars can be easily converted. As it stands, diesel engines cannot but this technology is in development.

Whilst the choice for electric vehicles is still quite limited, the demand for hybrid is increasing. Switching to electricity is also more convenient thanks to local government grants that aid councils in installing more electric vehicle charge points. This is great if you live in a city but perhaps not as workable for those in rural areas as it’s unlikely that there’ll be charging points on country roads for quite some time.

Is this too little too late?

Legislation will be unnecessary if oil supplies run out. So exactly how much petrol and diesel will be left by 2040? Predictions about this vary considerably, from an optimistic 140 years to seriously worrying estimates that we may already have reached maximum oil production.

More realistic are reports from BP and HSBC that estimate that we have between 40 and 50 years’ of known reserves available – if we continue to use oil as we are. With this in mind, by 2040 there’s a fairly good chance that petrol and diesel cars will have been replaced simply because petrol doesn’t exist anymore.

So how would you vote?

Given the chance to vote on the ban, what would you decide? In a recent Guardian poll, it was a fairly close run thing with 59% of voters saying that they agreed with the idea. Bearing in mind that the Guardian readership is typically an environmentally-minded demographic, it’s safe to assume that the ban is unpopular due to the above. After all – what’s the point in wasting political resources on a law that will be meaningless by the time it’s implemented?

Whilst ecological development is still not a primary concern for many people, change will eventually be unavoidable. As petrol resources run out and prices continue to increase at the pumps, simple economics will push drivers to switch to electric. Sadly, we will likely not witness a major cultural shift towards motoring until then.

Of course, there are bigger issues that need addressing here, such as the political agenda and how environmental legislation sways voters. However, there will inevitably come a time when a total lack of resources will force people to think differently, regardless of a change in law.

Emily Buchanan lives in Norwich and is an ardent advocate of all things natural. She doesn’t drive, instead choosing to travel the world on her trusty, zero-carbon bicycle. Follow her or check out her blog.

Further reading:

Government prepares for major rollout of electric car chargepoints

Can the UK mimic the French EV revolution?

British motor industry to get £1bn to build vehicles for the future

Electric vehicle sales predicted to soar to £2.8bn by 2020

The truth behind environmental cars

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