The Government’s Hybrid Car Fiasco Shows The UK Is Nowhere Near A Coherent Environmental Policy

  • Date: 07/02/20
  • Emma Revell, The Daily Telegraph

After confidently telling motorists for decades that certain types of vehicle were better for the environment, our politicians now plan to penalise those same drivers by government fiat. 

This is not the first time that the prevailing wisdom has shifted dramatically, to the cost of consumers CREDIT: OWEN HUMPHREYS /PA 

This week’s announcement that the sale of new hybrid cars will be banned from 2035, alongside new petrol and diesel cars, came as a shock to customers and an industry that had been supported by rhetoric from a succession of ministers promoting their supposedly green credentials.

The resale value of these fairly expensive vehicles is likely to plummet as a result of government action, so owners are right to be angry. With new sales of hybrid, petrol and diesel banned, it is likely that much of the infrastructure essential to driving these cars will also disappear, rendering them unusable in practice. Readers may recall that we’ve been here before.

This is not the first time that the prevailing wisdom has shifted dramatically, to the cost of consumers. The last Labour government incentivised the purchase of diesel vehicles following changes to the car tax system in 2001. Despite tending to be more fuel efficient, evidence suggested that diesel vehicles emitted greater amounts of other pollutants. The New Labour tax break contributed to increased sales of diesel cars and a corresponding decrease in air quality. The government, in effect, promoted polluting vehicles under the guise of the green agenda.

Almost 20 years later and we are in the same position. Affluent consumers rushed to buy the latest hybrid Prius after the government backed them as a solution to the climate crisis and the UK’s worsening air quality, especially in London where city authorities made the cars exempt from congestion zones and the latest Ultra Low Emission Zones. Now those same authorities are penalising hybrid drivers.

Nothing better sums up the risk of the state seeking to pick winners and losers in the name of environmentalism, or the way in which ordinary taxpayers inevitably pick up the tab for policymakers’ mistakes. This epitomises the government’s contradictory set of policies, and the broader lack of joined-up thinking on energy and the environment.

Not only is Boris Johnson’s government pushing ahead with the net zero emissions target hastily agreed by Theresa May last year – it is arguably doing so with even greater enthusiasm. The decision to ban “offending” vehicles by 2035, after all, merely expedites an existing government target by five years. 

As such, they have adopted a black and white attitude towards green technologies – ignoring any downsides that might arise from their development or use. For instance, some models of hybrid car are better for the environment than petrol and diesel cars, but the latest announcement will undoubtedly give people second thoughts about trading in their old polluting banger for a hybrid. There are also serious questions about whether we are prepared for the vast rollout in infrastructure the electric car revolution envisaged by politicians will require, and yet the government seems deaf to the concerns of businesses and industry experts about its feasability.

Across government departments, there is a severe disconnect; policies for green subsidies in some areas sit uneasily alongside significant punitive taxes in others and support for non-renewables elsewhere. Sometimes the aims are wholly contradictory. 

In the energy sector, wind and solar still receive substantial subsidies – although much lower than in the recent past – while Ofgem notes that around £120 of the average household energy bill is as a direct result of “environmental and social obligation costs” – that’s green taxes to you and me.

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