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Court ruling could spell end of diesel in Britain

POSTED BY Nigel Andretti ON 01 May 2015

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A COURT decision this week could force diesel cars off the road in Britain.

In its decision, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that the Government must take urgent steps to tackle air pollution in cities.

The UK is facing millions of pounds of fines from the European Commission for failing to cut levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Judges in Britain’s highest court ordered the Department for the Environment to submit new air quality plans by the end of the year setting out radical ways of tackling pollution.

Environmental and motoring groups told The Telegraph newspaper that diesel cars and trucks were likely to be targeted because they emit the largest amount of nitrogen dioxide. Freight companies predicted that diesel drivers would be offered incentives to scrap their vehicles or face stiff new taxes.

However Edmund King of Britain’s AA warned that the 11 million motorists who were ‘misled’ into buying diesel cars during Gordon Brown’s ‘dash for diesel’ would feel betrayed.

“There have been confusing messages and the goal now seems to have changed from encouragement to the demonising of diesel,” said King.

“This won’t just affect big polluting trucks, but taxi drivers and families with people-carriers as well. This could drive down the value of cars dramatically.

“We all want better air quality but knee-jerk reactions without considering the science will not help air quality, industry or drivers.”

In 2001, Brown, the then chancellor, overhauled vehicle excise duty so that cars that emitted a higher level of carbon dioxide faced a higher level of vehicle excise duty.

The move prompted a profound shift towards diesel cars, which produce lower levels of carbon dioxide because they are about 20 per cent more efficient than petrol engines.

Over the past decade, the number of diesel cars on Britain’s roads has risen from 1.6?million to more than 11?million and accounts for a third of vehicles.

However Labour’s plan failed to take into account that diesel vehicles emit 10 times the fine particles and up to twice the nitrogen dioxide, which has been linked to 7,000 deaths each year.

Lord Carnwath sitting in London’s Supreme Court found that the UK had breached article 13 of the EU Air Quality Directive which demanded that nitrogen dioxide levels were cut to 40 micrograms of per cubic metre by 2010.

On present projections will not even fully hit the target by 2030, with London, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire predicted to be still over the healthy limit. Currently 38 out of 43 zones in the UK are in breach of the directive.

The UK is also facing similar proceedings in the European Court of Justice where it could be fined millions for not reducing pollution levels.

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Richard Gane, director and transport sector specialist at supply chain company Vendigital, warned that phasing out diesel could have major implications for businesses.

“If the Government decides to fast forward its plans to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions, this would add weight to the growing environmental lobby against diesel-engine vehicles and potentially could lead to them being phased out, perhaps via an incentivised scrappage scheme,” he said.

“For businesses that rely on regular road transport deliveries, any movement away from diesel engine vehicles would have significant supply chain implications.

“Businesses will be hoping that any plans be offset by incentives that will enable them to switch to greener models.”

The Department for the Environment said that it could not comment on changes for diesel owners because of the upcoming election. But it said the government was committed to revising plans by the end of the year and complying with EU limits ‘in the shortest possible time.’

A spokesman for BMW, which manufactures the MINI brand at a plant in Oxfordshire, said: “As far as the ruling is concerned we do need to take a look at that.”

“As for the future of the diesel engine, I think for quite some time it’s been clear that we’ve had a development strategy that is improving the efficiency of our petrol and diesel engines but also seeing the introduction of fully electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

“There’s a constant strive to remove tailpipe emission altogether. As far as a time frame for that is concerned I wouldn’t be so bold as to put one on that. But I would certainly point to the cars we’ve launched recently as steps in the right direction.”

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