The government needs to be more ambitious to drive the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles in the country.
That’s the view of MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), who are calling for a “clear strategy” to increase the use of low carbon vehicles and deal with the Volkswagen scandal so the UK can meet its decarbonisation and air quality goals.
They are concerned the government “appears to be weakening the way all departments report against sustainability”.
The Committee suggests the Department for Transport (DfT) must provide local government with a “clearer remit” to invest in sustainable transport by reassessing how must weight is given to sustainability and the emphasis it places on economic benefits.
Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “The government’s belated plan to tackle air quality means polluted towns and cities will hit 2010 air quality targets 10 years late, in 2020. Transport authorities throughout England told us they have had problems with getting sustainable transport projects off the ground because the DfT places more importance on economic benefits rather than the health benefits of improving air quality.
“Local authorities had a range of innovative ideas to drive take-up such as supporting electric and low emission fleet procurement by underwriting risk or guaranteeing buy-back; helping workplaces invest in charging points and introducing a national grant scheme for electric and low emission taxis. Ministers should also think about changes to vehicle taxation, including company cars, to make electric vehicles more attractive.”
Researchers have also said the UK has seen little to no improvement in air quality over the last two decades as transport planners are “neglecting” pollution and there is more focus on road safety.
The Committee is also calling on the government to ensure Volkswagen speeds up its programme to replace cheat devices and work with the rail sector to set “realistic” decarbonisation targets.
It suggests rail companies must show how targets have been chosen and how performance against them will be measured.
The MPs add government’s projections show its target for ultra-low emission vehicles making up 9% of all new car and van sales by 2020 will be missed.
They believe the goals must be met to reach the UK’s climate targets in the most cost effective way and is urging the DfT to set a medium term strategy to promote low carbon vehicles after 2020.
The government insists it is “committed” to improving air quality and reducing vehicle emissions.
A DfT spokesperson adds: “We want almost all cars and vans to be zero emission by 2050 and are investing more than £600 million in this Parliament to support the manufacture, use and uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles.
“In addition, the government is creating Clean Air Zones in five city centres, electrifying the rail network which cuts emissions and supporting the development of sustainable biofuels. We welcome the Environmental Audit Committee’s report and will consider the recommendations and respond in due course.”