For many years, the aim of the Government and the motor industry has been to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions which are recognised as a primary cause of global warming and damage to the ozone layer; these harmful emissions have been in decline. However, the average figure for 2017 shows that for the first time since this realisation, levels of CO2 from new cars has actually risen.

The underlying cause of this rise is drivers are trading in their old diesel cars, and while only a tiny percentage are buying electric or hybrid cars, the vast majority are buying petrol driven cars with larger engines that emit more CO2 than earlier models.

Worrying emissions figures

According to figures, emissions from new vehicles sold in the UK have risen for the first time since records were started. The Society of Motor Manufacturers (SMMT) figures show that the CO2 emissions from new cars rose in 2017, as more buyers move away from diesel vehicles, for fear of higher taxes and running costs as well as the steep depreciation in their value.

The results were not a complete surprise as figures towards the end of 2017 predicted that there would be a rise in emissions for the first time in 19 years, but the confirmation still caused shock. The report highlights the cost of the “anti-diesel crusade”, which includes new surcharges for new cars, and councils being allowed to implement punitive measures against diesel cars entering cities or even parking are planned across the UK.

The average emissions emitted from new vehicles sold last year was 121 g/km. This is only a small 0.8% rise on the previous figures, but it is the first upward movement in two decades.

Missing EU emissions targets

According to the figures, the stalled progress on the climate change means that the UK may face missing out on the CO2 targets for 2021. EU restrictions say that the industry needs to reduce the average vehicle emissions to 95 g/km by 2021, requiring that each year the output declines by 5.9%. This means that the slight increase is a much bigger problem when taking into account the decrease goal.

The main reason behind this changing figure is the decline in the number of diesel vehicles being bought. Diesel sales are down by 8% across Europe, and there’s a 17% decline in new diesel registrations in the UK. This decline means that manufacturers are starting to pull diesel as an option in their ranges.
Porsche announced that it is stopping all diesel variants in its range with immediate effect. FCA who own Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Jeep and Maserati, are also expected to announce a similar move this week that will take effect from 2022.

Part of this is the new emission tests that were introduced last year. These have made it more difficult to get vehicles to reach the required Euro 6 standard. It also means that the chances of diesel remaining an option in the future are looking increasingly unlikely.

Large switch to petrol SUVs

Environmental action group, Greenpeace, was quick to release a statement highlighting the UK motor industry was to blame for the negative CO2 results. Clean air campaigner for the group, Paul Morozzo, said that the ‘SMMT was trying to shift blame’ and that the industry had failed to table the carbon emissions from cars.’
Part of the problem is that there is a large shift from diesel to SUVs, and this had a negative impact on CO2 levels as these vehicles often release more of this pollution. Greenpeace also disputes the idea of ‘clean diesel’, and they believe that there’s no better alternative. According to them, there should be a focus on making clean electric vehicles that are ‘affordable and accessible for all.’

The switch from diesel to petrol, which typically emits more CO2, shows that people are not yet seriously considering electric cars as an option. One survey from Auto Trader showed that 59% of diesel and petrol car buyers in the last six months did not opt for electric because of the upfront costs and no increase in grants from the government, to reduce premiums associated with zero emissions models.

This shows that if the Government is serious about the switch to electric, more needs to be done to make it appealing to drivers, rather than just telling them about the perils of CO2 emissions.


What do you think about the first increase in CO2 emissions in 19 years? Do you think that the Government is to blame for this supported by local councils or is the car makers for lying about diesel in the first place? Let us know in the comments below.

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