Figures obtained from the Department of Transport by selling site Buyacar.co.uk show the average new car sold in 2017 emits more toxic CO2 than new cars sold in 2016, which is the first time in 14 years that an average new car emits more CO2 than older cars. As more and more drivers desert diesel cars discouraged by tax rises, toxicity charges, parking surcharges and crashing car values, the unintended consequence is that CO2 greenhouse gas emissions are back on the rise again.

‘Unintended consequences’

The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is where the actions of people and especially Governments, always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended.

In 2008 under the Labour government led by Gordon Brown, they made an announcement in the Budget which they thought was good for the environment, which was to discourage people from driving petrol vehicles due to harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) they emitted and instead create a car tax system based on carbon dioxide emitted to encourage people to buy “lower polluting” diesel cars instead. In response, sales of new diesel cars and the British motoring industry itself boomed off the back of the decision.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

(Credit – Zappys Technology Solutions)

Demonisation of diesel begins

By 2016 with a Conservative government in power, it became apparent that levels of toxic nitrogen oxide (NOx) had increased in major towns and cities, contributing to 40,000 deaths a year. The Government was not meeting its own NOx emissions targets set by the European Union, leading to the threat of fines and court action. Diesel cars were pinpointed as the main culprit for these rises and it was then that the process of demonisation of diesel in all forms began in earnest, led by environmental pressure groups and the new Mayor of London.

Fast forward to the end of 2017 and diesel car sales have plummeted by 16% year on year. All the major manufacturers are running diesel scrappage schemes where you can trade in a diesel car bought in the last 8 years and receive up to £8,000 towards buying a new car. In 2017 the average value of a used diesel car fell by 26%, for many the choice of switching away from diesel cars seemed like a no brainer, but it wasn’t.

What the Government wanted people to do was buy new hybrid engine or fully electric cars en masse. The problem here is they’re too expensive to buy or run and there is no used car market for hybrid or electric cars. Battery technology moves so rapidly that the battery in a two-year-old electric car is inferior to a new battery powered car, so they don’t hold their residual value for it to be worth buying an older hybrid or EV car.

The new unintended consequence here is that while people are moving away from diesel cars as the Government wanted, they’re not buying lower emissions vehicles, instead they’re buying high polluting, big engine petrol SUVs, which is leading to an unprecedented rise in CO2 emissions. Further bad news is that the Government also have a CO2 emissions target they need to meet by the European Union as well.

Official CO2 figures show a rise in 2017

Official statistics for the first ten months of 2017 from the Department of Transport show that the average new car sold this year produces 121.1g of CO2 per kilometre. The average CO2 output of new vehicles sold in 2016 was 120.3g/km. With diesel registrations widely expected to stall further in December, it will spell the end of a 14-year reduction in CO2 emissions, which have declined by 4.02g/km annually since records first began.

How on earth did we get in this mess?

The greatest irony in all of this is that the most likely solution in reducing both NOx and CO2 to meet European standards over the next few years is buy a new super low diesel emission car. One would have hoped that the market would have naturally gravitated towards buying a new lower emitting diesel, instead demonisation has made them buy high polluting petrol SUVs.

As is often the case, the Government has intervened and targeted the wrong area and not tackled the real problem, which is diesel cars over 10 years old, public transport vehicles, the van and haulage industry, diesel trains, ships and the illegal removal of diesel particulate filters.

What do you think of this latest development? Are you a diesel driver who feels vindicated by this, or are have you just bought a petrol driven SUV without realising this is as bad as a diesel car? Or are you an electric car driver feeling all smug about driving a car with no emissions that you won’t be able to re-sell? Let us know in the comments below.

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