Today’s government announcement of a broader attack on UK emissions is good news for the car industry.
Not because pressure has suddenly been reduced on the automotive sector (quite the opposite is true, due to the upcoming WLTP emissions standard). No, it’s because a wider-reaching New Clean Air Strategy, proposed by Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) secretary Michael Gove, is evidence of policy that's attempting to reduce emissions effectively rather than provide the Government with a punchbag — mostly the car industry — with which to demonstrate that it is doing something.
In recent months, the car industry has bore the brunt of increasingly stringent emissions limits, brought into force in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal. But this has left several other sectors out of the spotlight. The inclusion of wood-burning stoves in Gove's new plan is good, then. Did you know that emissions of PM2.5 – an extremely harmful fine particulate matter produced from burning – are more than twice as high from stoves than road transport in Britain? Defra's website says that “there is understood to be no safe threshold below which no adverse effects would be anticipated”, yet these stoves have been quietly contributing 38% of the UK's emissions of PM2.5, clogging up our air and invading lungs and bloodstreams with little hindrance.
Then there’s ammonia, a waste product of farming that is harmful to the environment and, according to government advice, “causes immediate burning of the nose, throat and respiratory tract” in humans, leading to respiratory illnesses. And what about the more aggressive pollutants produced by cleaning solvants (which are still easily accessible over the counter in many high-street shops) that have, until now, been comparably under-regulated? Good to see they'll be getting their fair share of government attention, too.
Somehow, aviation travel remains off the Government’s radar, despite the fact that cheap, short-haul flights are becoming more popular but are also extremely inefficient due to the colossal amount of fuel required just to get a plane off the ground. I just found out that a Boeing 747 produces more than 33 tonnes of CO2 to take off and land…
So, while not without problems, Gove’s more in-depth emissions strategy does at least seem like a big step in the right direction and is something that the automotive sector desperately needed. The Government has already done irreparable damage to the car industry as a result of blunt-edged policy, such as the diesel tax hike that has cut diesel sales by a third and caused the first increase in CO2 emissions since records began (is this progress?). And, arguably even more significantly, the Government is pushing for a ban on pure-combustion-engined cars from 2040, but has no solid plan in place to support the resulting rapid increase in demand for electric vehicles.
At least now, with a spotlight shared with other sectors, the car industry may have fewer stumbling blocks of ineffective government policy and can do what it does best: innovate.