The move aims to help curb air pollution and the estimated 40,000 premature deaths associated with it in the UK each year, and follows a similar announcement by the French government earlier in the month.
Full details are still emerging, but early reports claim that the ban will include hybrid vehicles, suggesting that only fully electric cars and vans will be sold in the UK from 2040, in addition to those powered by other alternative fuels such as hydrogen. The wording of the announcement suggests that trucks, buses and coaches will not be affected.
The environment secretary Michael Gove, who announced the plans on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, said the move would put the UK in “a position of global leadership” on shaping future vehicle technology.
“We can’t carry on with diesel and petrol cars – not just because of the health problems involved, but also because the emissions they cause mean that we would accelerate climate change [and] do damage to our planet for the next generation,” he said.
“We also need to take action now to deal with some specific health concerns which are raised by particular types of emission, which are predominantly… from diesel cars and other diesel vehicles.”
Mr Gove said that the government would provide more than £200 million for local authorities to help tackle air pollution. This could include retrofitting bus fleets with emissions reduction technology to cut nitrogen oxides (NOx), as well as restrictions on access to roads and routes which are particularly problematic in terms of air pollution.
“We’ll make it clear that local authorities must accelerate the progress that’s already been made,” he said.
When questioned about the prospect of further emissions charging schemes such as those planned for Greater London, Mr Gove added: “If a local authority believes charging is necessary in order to secure compliance, then we’ll work to ensure that that plan can be implemented appropriately. But on the evidence I’ve seen, while charging could bring local authorities into compliance with the law [on NOx emissions], it’s not necessary.”
The environment secretary also appeared to play down the efficacy of scrappage schemes, saying that people were already “quite rightly” moving away from diesel vehicles of their own volition. But he added that if local authorities could propose scrappage schemes that were “value for money and appropriately targeted”, then the government would have no objection to working with them to introduce such systems.
Some in the transport industry fear that allowing local authorities to set their own individual restrictions could result in a situation whereby operators are faced with the task of complying with different emissions standards every time they cross a municipal boundary. But Mr Gove said that, while a national strategy was now in place, varying patterns of vehicle usage and traffic in different parts of the country necessitated a localised approach.