I have been writing about the lethal impacts of poor air quality for a decade, so I am not going to mince my words.
I did a little dance when chancellor Phillip Hammond said that £400 million would be invested in electric vehicle infrastructure, alongside an extra £100m for the plug-in car grant and £40m for research into charging.
Charging a vehicle at work will also not be considered as a benefit-in-kind.
I was even more pleased to see that the Government is reversing its longstanding support for diesel cars and vans. The first year’s excise duty will go up by one band and company car tax will increase by 1% for diesels, except for those which meet the most modern emission standard.
The cash will go towards a £220m fund for implementing much-needed local air quality measures.
But my hope that tax would be going up on diesel – as had been rumoured – were dashed.
Nevertheless, the budget of November 22 represents one of the first steps towards righting a historic wrong in backing diesel over petrol in the first place. In the days of New Labour, it was thought that the slightly lower CO2 emissions offered by diesel cars warranted support, while the tightening Euro emissions standards would deal with the pollution they left behind.
Both assumptions were dreadfully mistaken.
The notion that diesel is inherently better on climate change is old-fashioned at best. The reason is that the black carbon it puts out is a powerful ‘short-term climate forcer’, negating its CO2 benefits.
There is now little difference between the amount of CO2 emitted from modern petrol and diesel cars, anyway. And with Mazda putting a petrol compression ignition engine into production, the historic situation may now be reversed.
I barely need to rehearse the debacle of Dieselgate – which went far beyond the Volkswagen Group. Air quality experts knew there was something funny going on years before the scandal broke – I reported on it myself. There was simply far more nitrogen dioxide (NO2) at the roadside than there should have been.
And let’s not forget that modern diesels come with clog-prone particulate filters (DPFs), which has encouraged a small but significant part of the population to become actively criminal. A loophole in the law allows them to be removed – it’s just that you can’t drive the car away afterwards. I should mention that removing the filter also invalidates your insurance. And your MOT, for that matter. Just say no, OK?
That said, enforcement has been laughable thus far. The first element of government to take action against filter removal was the Advertising Standards Authority, of all things. But there are signs that a crackdown could be afoot.
Meanwhile, science has built an ever-growing library of diesel’s baleful influence on our health. Convincing links between poor air quality and diabetes, psychiatric disorders in children, worsening deaths in heatwaves, poor circulation in the lungs, not to mention stroke, pneumonia and dementia have all been made in the past year or two.