The 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars, explained

The UK government announced it will ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 — a full decade earlier than planned. It’s a major win for the climate, and a chance to reimagine our traffic-jammed streets.

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The government has committed to ban the sale of new petrol, diesel, and dirty hybrid cars and vans from 2030. They’ve also announced extra grants for electric car buyers, and more funding for charge points.

How significant is this?

This is a huge milestone for climate action in the UK. It will help to significantly cut carbon emissions and take a big step towards meeting the UK’s near-term climate targets. Polluting cars and vans are responsible for around one-fifth of all carbon emissions in the UK.

But the ban isn’t a completely new idea. The government had already committed to phasing out new petrol and diesel cars by 2040. What’s different is the deadline: new fossil-fueled cars and vans will now disappear from showrooms and dealerships 10 years earlier than planned.

Bringing forward the phase out deadline will not only significantly reduce climate-wrecking emissions, but it will also help to clean up toxic air pollution on our streets, which we have long known has a disproportionate impact on poorer communities and certain communities of colour.

This is also better for jobs across the UK, and workers within the car industry.  A Greenpeace report, written by Cambridge Econometrics, found that a 2030 ban on new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans could create 32,000 new jobs by the same year, and increase GDP by £4.2bn, compared with a later phase-out date of 2035.

The ban has been a long time coming

Greenpeace — along with many other organisations — have been pushing to clean up car industry emissions for well over three decades.  In 2011, for example, Greenpeace launched a campaign against Volkswagen’s attempts to weaken EU car efficiency targets.

Since then, car companies have been lobbying to keep fossil-fueled cars on the road for longer. But thanks to the thousands who got involved with the campaign, the government has landed on the side of the planet (at least partially).

What are the problems?

No clear plan for hybrid cars

Still, the announcement is not perfect. The government has said that some hybrid vehicles, which usually combine an old-style petrol engine with an electric motor, will be allowed for another five years (until 2035). But it hasn’t been clear on which ones. The government needs to confirm that it will include the vast majority of polluting hybrid vehicles in the 2030 ban.

All hybrids produce tonnes of emissions — much more than electric or green hydrogen vehicles. And conventional ‘full’ hybrids in particular, which run for the majority of the time on fossil fuel energy, are barely any cleaner than traditional petrol and diesel engines.

Support for the change-over

One of the biggest barriers to buying an electric vehicle is price. Even though the total cost of owning and running electric vehicles is already cheaper than petrol or diesel, people perceive electric cars to be out of their price range.

To deal with this, the government announced extra grants to cut the costs of buying an electric car. This, alongside money for building more charging infrastructure, will help to make electric vehicles more accessible.

But even with grants, cars (in general) are really expensive and not everyone can afford to own one – or wants to own one at all!

We need a plan to end car-dependence

The problem with cars and vans isn’t just about what comes out of the exhaust pipe. Whatever they run on, all cars put a burden on the environment. And when they’re allowed to dominate urban areas, they make the streets hostile and dangerous to everyone else.

And what about things like traffic accidents, road casualties, and time stuck in traffic? Or people feeling isolated because they lack access to public transport? Not to mention the ongoing human rights violations linked to mineral extraction for electric batteries.

If all we do is replace every fossil fueled car with an electric one, we’ll miss the opportunity to break the UK’s dependence on cars.

The government could choose to get serious about this, and transform our roads and streets over the next 10 years.

A young boy rides a bike along a residential street. A young girl on a scooter, a young boy running, and an adult walking are visible in the background.

Low traffic neighbourhood schemes make residential streets quieter and safer, allowing children to build up their confidence. © Crispin Hughes

They could provide more practical alternatives to driving, and make sure the essentials for daily life are in easy reach. We should have world class electrified public transport connecting every town and village; electric cargo bikes available on demand; and pavements wide enough for wheelchairs and buggies.

Although people could still drive when they really need to, those must-drive situations would come up less and less. Private cars would feel less like an everyday essential, and more like a useful tool for specialist tasks.

Transform transport

This announcement is a good sign that the government understands that we need a green recovery from Covid-19. But a proper green recovery goes beyond replacing fossil fuels cars with zero carbon ones. We also need to rethink how we use transport overall.

Can you help join other Greenpeace activists calling on the government to transform our transport?

What's next?