LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will ban the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2035, five years earlier than planned, in an attempt to reduce air pollution that could herald the end of over a century of reliance on the internal combustion engine.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seeking to use the announcement to elevate the United Kingdom’s environmental credentials after he sacked the head of a Glasgow U.N. Climate Change Conference planned for November known as COP26.
“We have to deal with our CO2 emissions, and that is why the UK is calling for us to get to net zero as soon as possible, to get every country to announce credible targets to get there – that’s what we want from Glasgow,” Johnson said on Tuesday at a launch event for COP26 at London’s Science Museum, alongside broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough.
“We know as a country, as a society, as a planet, as a species, we must now act.”
The two-week COP26 summit is seen as a moment of truth for the 2015 Paris Agreement to combat global warming with responsibility for persuading big polluting countries to agree more ambitious emissions cuts falling on the British hosts.
Britain has pledged to reach net zero by 2050, but Greenpeace UK Head of Politics Rebecca Newsom said Johnson needed to take broader action than cleaning up transport.
“We need a complete rethink of the way we power our economy, build homes, move around and grow our food,” she said.
Britain’s step amounts to a victory for electric cars that if copied globally could hit the wealth of oil producers, as well as transform the car industry and one of the icons of 20th Century capitalism: the automobile itself.
Countries and cities around the world have announced plans to crack down on diesel vehicles following the 2015 Volkswagen emissions scandal and the EU is introducing tougher carbon dioxide rules.
The mayors of Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have said they plan to ban diesel vehicles from city centers by 2025. France is preparing to ban the sale of fossil fuel-powered cars by 2040 and Norway’s parliament has set a non-binding goal that by 2025 all cars should be zero emissions.
While some automakers may find it hard to countenance the end of the combustion engine, others have embraced a future in which electric vehicles prevail.
The ban poses a threat to German jobs as Britain is the biggest global export market for its car manufacturers, amounting to about 20% of global sales, and electric cars take less time to build than combustion-engined or hybrid variants.
The government said that, subject to consultation, it planned to bring forward an end to the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans to 2035, or earlier if a faster transition was possible.
Diesel and petrol models still account for 90% of sales in Britain, and prospective buyers of greener models are worried about the limited availability of charging points, the range of certain models and the cost.
The government said last year it was providing an extra 2.5 million pounds ($3.25 million) to fund the installation of more than 1,000 new charge points for electric vehicles on residential streets. It has also provided investment for the development of electric vehicle technology.
Johnson’s launch of COP26 was marred by a stinging attack on the prime minister by the summit’s former head Clare O’Neill who was sacked from the post last week.
Johnson declined to answer any questions on O’Neill, but last week the government said the role would be filled by a minister. A government source suggested her replacement would most likely to announced in a wider reshuffle of government posts expected this month.
O’Neill, a former energy minister, accused Johnson of a lack of leadership and said he had admitted to her he did not understand climate change.
“My advice to anybody to whom Boris is making promises – whether it is voters, world leaders, ministers, employees or indeed family members – is to get it in writing, get a lawyer to look at it, and make sure the money is in the bank,” she told BBC radio.
Reporting by Kylie MacLellan, additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Ed Osmond