As host of COP26, our Government wanted to be seen as “world leaders in reducing CO2 emissions”, and so before the meeting it announced the U.K. would ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2030. It hoped it could then persuade other countries to follow our lead. It completely failed and no other major country went along with this: Germany, Japan, Italy and China do not propose a ban until 2035, France and Spain do not propose a ban until 2040 and the USA and India are not proposing any ban at all.
It is not hard to see why other countries were so unenthusiastic to inflict this policy on their population. Electric cars are so expensive. For example, Nissan’s basic electric car, the Leaf, has a recommended retail price (RRP) of £26,995, whereas its equivalent petrol car, the Micra, has an RRP of £16,685. The cheapest Tesla is the Model 3, which has an RRP of £45,990 or more, depending on the version. The petrol equivalent is a BMW 3 series, which has an RRP of £29,990 or more, again depending on the version. The running costs of electric cars are lower – charging a battery is cheaper than filling a tank with petrol – but for the average U.K. motorist, who has an annual mileage of 7,400 miles, these lower running costs will never compensate for the very high purchase price.
The lower running cost of electric cars is in any case largely an artefact of Government fiscal policy, namely the enormous amount of tax on petrol. Most of the cost of a litre of petrol is tax, whereas there is only 5% VAT on electricity. These very high rates of tax on petrol mean that if motorists switch from petrol to electric then the Government will face a black hole in its finances. The Government therefore will need to find a way of taxing electric vehicles to make up for this lost revenue. A plan under discussion is to install tracking devices in cars such that the Government knows how many miles you are driving and can then charge you a “per mile road tax”. If this happens, the running costs of electric cars will rapidly increase.
There are also serious questions about how ‘green’ electric cars actually are. The mining and processing of the rare earth metals used in the batteries is particularly energy intensive. A recent study by Volvo found that the manufacture of electric cars generated much more CO2 emissions than the manufacture of an equivalent petrol car. According to this study, the average motorist in the U.K. would have to drive an electric car for 10 years before it breaks even in its total carbon footprint (manufacture plus driving) with the equivalent petrol car.
In just over seven years’ time most of the world will still have the freedom to choose whether to buy an electric car or a petrol car. But in Britain the Government will be forcing us to buy extremely expensive electric cars that do very little to reduce overall CO2 emissions. This is to say nothing of well-known problems with range and charge-time, and whether the grid can cope with so many motorists charging their vehicles. Why is the Government in such a rush? Why not allow more time for the technology to develop and hopefully become cheaper and more efficient, and the country to be better prepared? After all, Britain only produces 1% of global CO2 emissions. Three countries produce half of global CO2 emissions; China produces 29% and is not intending to ban petrol cars until 2035, whilst the USA produces 14% and India 7% and neither country is proposing any ban at all.
John Fernley is a retired scientist.