NAO says Government needs 'integrated plan with milestones' for effective transport decarbonisation

Fri 26 February 2021 View all news

The National Audit Office has issued a new report which says that carbon emissions from cars have not come down in line with expectations over the last decade due to traffic growth and increased demand for larger, heavier vehicles.  The NAO says that an "integrated plan, with specific milestones" is needed to deliver better value for public money.

Auditors say that overall carbon emissions from passenger cars have fallen by only 1% between 2011 and 2018 .

Over the past 10 years the Government has spent more than £1 billion, according to NAO, to incentivise the take-up of ultra-low emission cars. 

The report says that having now set an ambitious target to phase out the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030, Government departments need to develop detailed plans to achieve this goal and need to learn from previous efforts.

It says that the departments responsible for this transition will require the appropriate skills and capacity to monitor and support all the necessary changes. It says that what is needed is "a much clearer plan for how they will deliver this societal change, focusing on delivering carbon reductions, not solely increased car sales; and a more targeted approach to addressing potential barriers to take-up across the country".

The NAO report examines how well the Government has used public money to support the uptake of ultra-low emission cars and seeks to draw lessons for the future. It examines progress in uptake through the plug‑in car grant; the development of charging infrastructure using Government financial support; and the impact of increasing the sale of ultra-low emission cars on carbon emissions from the UK car fleet so far.

The report focuses primarily on the impact on carbon emissions given Government’s focus on reducing carbon emissions from the tailpipe, rather than the carbon used in production. It does not examine other factors that will influence market expansion such as action taken by industry and the impact of regulation.

The Auditor General, Gareth Davies, said (reported by The Guardian): “Meeting the government’s ambitious targets to phase out new petrol and diesel cars in less than a decade still requires a major transition for consumers, carmakers and those responsible for charging infrastructure.

“Government now has the opportunity to reflect on what has gone well and better target its interventions and spending to secure this fundamental change and deliver the carbon reduction required.”

Zemo Partnership comment: This report comes at a critical time, with the imminent publication of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan and the development of the regulatory framework and industry/government collaboration to deliver the 2030/35 commitments to phase out ICE in cars.

However, it's unfortunate that the report wasn't able to reflect the last few months of 2020 which showed a significant acceleration in progress.  Sales of ULEVs in September were 8% of the 2020 market but in the last quarter of 2020 they accounted for more than twice that figure - 17% (boosting the full year average to 10.7%).  

The report correctly notes that average new car CO2 emissions had risen from 2016 (120g/km) to 2019 (128 g/km) for a variety of reasons, but in 2020 average new car CO2 emissions were 112g/km;  a 12% drop from the previous year.  In December 2020, the monthly figure fell to an impressive 95g/km. Additionally, whilst to date plug-in hybrid vehicles have outsold pure battery electric cars, in 2020 60% more BEVs were sold than PHEVs.  So the underlying need for clear plans and milestones certainly exists, but if the last quarter of 2020 is anything to go by, the interventions have lately been making a significant postive impact.

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