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COP23 and Budget 2017 keep up the momentum on electric vehicles


Electric vehicles (EVs) got a good showing in Philip Hammond’s Budget on Wednesday, with a new £400 million fund for charge points, an extra £100 million to make EVs cheaper to buy, and a further £40 million for EV innovation. There were also tax tweaks for workplace charging and diesel cars and a plan to electrify the Government vehicle fleet.

As soon as possible

This raft of measures is very encouraging (although some rather less so than others). But my favourite bit was when the Chancellor said that moving to electric cars is “a change that needs to come as soon as possible for our planet”.

However, the UK is planning to continue selling fossil fuelled cars for another 22 and a bit years (265 months). Is that really “as soon as possible”?

We don’t think so. Just like renewables, the costs of EV batteries are falling faster than anybody predicted. And just like renewables, EVs enjoy high levels of public support. 40% of people around the world planning to buy a car within the next five years saying they are likely to buy all-electric.

Lagging behind

Internationally, the UK is lagging way behind other countries. We currently sit joint-bottom of the league of countries’ EV targets, behind India, Ireland and Slovenia, among others. China is also making huge strides, making up more than half of global EV sales in Q3 2017.

It’s not just countries that are racing ahead either. Cities like Paris and Oxford are planning to ban exhaust-spewing cars from their streets by 2030 and 2020 respectively. Uber is planning to go 100% hybrid or electric in London from 2020, which makes the new target announced in the Budget, for the UK central Government fleet to go 25% electric by 2022, seem a little tame. Even the manufacturers are powering ahead. Jaguar Land Rover and Volvo, for example, are committing to putting electric motors in all their cars within three years.

The UK is joint bottom of the EV targets league tableThe UK is joint bottom of the EV targets league table

WWF are asking the Government to show ambition, reaffirm its international leadership in tackling climate change and driving innovation by bringing forward their target to 2030. This will help clear up the filthy air we are breathing at the roadside and cut carbon emissions closer to the pace required by the Paris Agreement.

Increasing ambition

Politically, there are two big prizes to increasing the ambition of the EV target.

Firstly, the countries that are quickest to embrace EVs will secure the most investment and jobs in this new industry. This includes the production of the vehicles, batteries and charge points, plus new jobs in EV servicing and battery repurposing. In the context of Brexit, potential investors need reassurances that the UK is the right bet for their cash. A strong target makes a bold statement that will help convince investors to put their money into UK plc.

But just as importantly, this increase in ambition would also show that the UK remains a major diplomatic force for good post-Brexit. Increasing ambition is the name of the game in the UN climate talks over the next 12 months. This is because of a process created at the most recent talks in Bonn called the Talanoa Dialogue.

WWF had a major presence at these talks (known as COP23), with around 140 pandas attending in total. Our first ever pavilion (the “Panda Hub”) hosted over 50 events advancing the debate on climate action. This included a forum on electric vehicles, with a keynote speech by Scottish Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, and a panel discussion with leaders from cities, car makers, the finance sector and academia.

Roseanna Cunningham highlighted Scotland’s 2032 target to phase out non-EVs, “well ahead of the 2040 target from the UK Government”. Vice Mayor of Oslo Lan Marie Berg explained how her city was leading the way on climate change and EVs. Oslo is working to treble the number of free public charging points and make all cars in the city electric by 2030. When we asked the audience when petrol and diesel cars should be phased out, over half replied 2030 or sooner.

Time to bring the UK’s EV target forward to 2030

The UK is looking to end the scourge of deadly air pollution. It’s looking to attract investment and create new high-tech EV jobs. And it’s looking to raise its climate ambition in line with the Paris Agreement. So bringing forward its EVs target to 2030 feels like a no-brainer for the UK Government’s forthcoming EV strategy next March.

By James Beard and Ralph Palmer

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