The upcoming 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars will transform UK motoring on a scale never seen before. This story is part of a wider analysis of the challenges faced by consumers, government and the automotive industry, what needs to happen, and how such drastic changes can be achieved over the next decade.
Read the rest of this series here: Countdown to year zero - what needs to happen by 2030?
In absolute terms, the simple answer is no. The UK accounts for around 1% of global CO2 emissions, generating 366 million tonnes annually. By comparison, China is the largest contributor to global emissions, with its 10.9 gigatonnes (Gt) representing around 29% of the global total. The US accounts for 5.1m Gt, ahead of India (2.4m Gt), Russia (1.7m Gt) and Japan (1.3m Gt). When considered on a per capita basis, the UK produces far fewer emissions than countries such as the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
There’s another issue – one that is a common bugbear for some in the car industry. While the CO2 production of combustion-engined cars can be seen from their exhaust pipes, making them an easy visible target, other major sources are harder to identify. International flights account for 915 million tonnes of CO2 production, around 2% of the world’s total. And a report in The Sunday Times last year found that computer data centres – used to store and hold information that travels on the internet – now account for as many CO2 emissions as the airline industry. The paper suggested that if every person in the UK sent one less email per year, it would cut the UK’s CO2 output by 16,000 tonnes.
Indeed, aside from the invention of potentially transformative technology – such as the advent of electric cars, depending on how the electricity powering them is generated – cutting emissions is largely a pursuit of marginal gains, where numerous small actions can have as big an impact as a handful of larger ones.
The UN believes that limiting global warming to 1.5deg C will require global human-caused CO2 emissions to reach net zero by 2050. Meeting that goal would require global greenhouse gas emissions to fall by 7.6% per year over the next decade. Achieving that is a shared – if uneven – burden, and the UK’s commitment needs to be seen as part of the wider Paris Climate Accord agreement that encourages all countries, not just the worst offenders, to cut their emissions.
The UK was ahead of most major economies in setting a 2050 net zero goal, and at the time, then energy minister Chris Skidmore said: “The UK kick-started the industrial revolution, which was responsible for economic growth across the globe but also for increasing emissions. We’re leading the world yet again in becoming the first major economy to pass new laws to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 while remaining committed to growing the economy – putting clean growth at the heart of our modern industrial strategy.”