King review sets roadmap for low-carbon vehicles

A government-commissioned review has recommended policies to help achieve an 80% cut in CO2 from road vehicles by 2050, including colour-coded tax discs and more prominent information on emissions in car advertisements.

The Treasury has published the recommendations of the King review on how to cut the CO2 emissions of UK road transport within 25 years, especially from cars. The review was led by Professor Julia King, an engineer and vice-chancellor of Aston University, working with the economist Sir Nicolas Stern.1 In 2000, cars and vans accounted for 7% of global CO2 emissions. If no action is taken, this is expected to double by 2050.

An initial report, published in October, focused on the potential for CO2 reductions. In the next 5-10 years, a 30% cut in CO2 emissions from road transport is achievable compared to levels in 2000 if manufacturers fit cars with more efficient engines and other improvements (ENDS Report 393, pp 30-33 ).

By 2050 an 80% cut is feasible, but this depends heavily on policies to switch from petrol and diesel-fuelled engines since cuts of this order depend on the use of electric and hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.

The final report recommends the policies needed to achieve these cuts; some are already being taken forward. One of the main ones is the European Commission’s proposed target to reduce new-car CO2 emissions to an average of 130g/km by 2012 (ENDS Report 385, p 51 ). The report endorses the government’s lobbying for a longer-term EU target of 100g/km by 2020 to guide manufacturers’ investments.

The review warns against reliance on biofuels as an easy way to cut emissions in the short term because of growing concerns that they may drive deforestation and take land out of food production. It recommends lowering the EU’s biofuels target.

It also recommends that the Department for Transport should assess the feasibility of a "low-carbon transport fuel obligation" to replace the existing renewable transport fuel obligation. This would support other low-carbon fuels aside from biofuels. It suggests a 10% target to reduce the carbon-intensity of fuel by 2020. The scheme would be enforced through a system of tradable credits, where producers of fuels with a carbon intensity less than the target could be sold to others with higher carbon fuels. Such a scheme has been developed in California.

The review recommends that the government should strengthen demand-side policy measures to encourage consumers to buy more efficient cars and to drive more responsibly. It says a significant barrier is motorists’ unwillingness to pay for a more fuel-efficient car despite long-term savings from reduced fuel costs.

To help overcome this, Professor King recommends the existing voluntary car CO2 emissions labelling scheme be made mandatory. One third of new vehicles sold do not display it. It should also be extended to cover used cars. The labels should be improved, for instance, by including information that allows customers to compare the model with the best in its class.

The report recommends the introduction of colour-coded tax discs. The most polluting may carry a red disc, the least green.

Vehicle advertising regulations should be strengthened to require CO2 data to be more prominent. The DfT should establish an advisory group and make proposals by the end of the year.

The Treasury published the review’s recommendations alongside the 2008 budget in which the Chancellor announced higher vehicle excise duty rates for more polluting cars (see pp 4-5 ).

Professor King’s review says government should work with the Commission and car manufacturers to develop safe and effective dashboard technologies such as gear-shift indicators to promote efficient driving. The equipment should then be made mandatory. She also wants government to be more proactive in trying to persuade motorists to drive in a more fuel-efficient way.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said average emissions from new cars sold in the UK had fallen by 13% since 1997 - the main reason why total car CO2 emissions had dropped by 4.8% a year since then despite rising numbers of vehicles. The figures come from the SMMT’s latest CO2 report.2

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