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The Government’s Net Zero fuel and engines policy needs to change and change fast

6 min read

The Government needs to change its position on fuel and engines, and change it fast.

It needs to be far more pragmatic, base its policy in the real world and stop listening to people who are out of touch. There are huge risks in stopping cars and vans being made from 2030 that use normal petrol and diesel engines, and, then only supporting electric fuels. The Government is ducking away from these risks at a cost to our economic well-being. Europe, and in particular the Germans and French, has recently woken up to this and changed course. So why can’t we?

The ‘Net-Zero’ credo has left us isolated and exposed. It shows how the Government and policy makers have been captured by the green zealots and the metropolitan elite – the EV evangelists as they have been termed. They have just unthinkingly accepted a so-called sense of inevitably. Current policies have no link to the real world and the lives of normal people and businesses across the UK, and particularly in Lincolnshire and outside of the London ‘metropolitan bubble’. It needs to change.

Labour’s plans will make matters even worse. Blocking all new domestic oil and gas developments if it wins power at the next General Election will play into Putin’s hands. Their ‘build wind-farms everywhere and anywhere’ policy shows how narrow-minded the debate has become.

I am a long-standing member of the Transport Select Committee and for the past 18 months we have been asking what the Government’s plans were on how we are as a nation are going to fuel transport in the future. This is against the backdrop of the Government’s position on Net Zero by 2050 and that no new cars or vans can be manufactured that use combustion engines from 2030. In effect, the end of petrol and diesel fuelled cars going forward. By 2050 all cars will be electric.

When the Committee published its report in March 2023 (‘Fuelling the Future: motive power and connectivity’) it questioned whether our country was ready for such a seismic change. This was also based on a lack of consistency and pragmatism at the very heart of Government policy. In some areas such as aviation, the Government said it had no hard view on the future of fuels, but on cars, taxis and vans it was clear that electric was the only game in town. They would not support any alternatives, even though developments in environmentally-friendly sustainable and synthetic fuels (e-fuels) are moving quickly. It was also unclear whether it could give a guarantee that enough affordable electric cars will be available or there will be enough charging points that could fuel such cars very quickly. There has to be no difference in charging times than filling a fuel tank. If there is, then the country loses productivity. It is obvious.

The Government response to the Select Committee’s report was even more vagueness, so the Committee has written back again asking for clarity. Why is this so hard, if the direction of travel is meant to be clear?

There is also a risk from China. A significant concern of mine about battery powered electric vehicles being the only solution for cars is that it is hugely risky. It does not match the reality of the technology in terms of cost and availability. There is no guarantee the number of batteries or charging points needed will be ready given worldwide demand especially from China. It is also worrying to see China’s growing ownership of the companies mining and processing the raw materials such as lithium, graphite and cobalt. And we are not even considering the working conditions and environmental impact of the mining of such raw materials. Why rely on going down a path that plays into China’s hands?

The EU’s auditors recognise this as they have posted a note of concern this month that the EU could fall short of its 2035 net zero goal on vehicles. This is due to ‘insufficient access to critical raw materials, rising costs and intense global competition’. All of which threatens to hinder investment in battery production capacity.

At least they have started down a pragmatic path with their current, unchanged as yet by Germany or France, policy. Their petrol and diesel engine ban for cars starts from 2035. Even then cars and vans can still be made using normal combustion engines so long as their fuel is synthetic and carbon-neutral. Common-sense and pragmatic, plus leaving room if needed if events change.

Even though we are now free from the EU’s shackles, I am not sure the lessons have been learned.

One of the big bugbears about being a member of the EU was not just that we had to accept laws from Brussels that we disagreed with, it was that our own civil servants would ‘gold-plate’ them. Making them far tougher than was required to comply with EU rules thereby placing us at a huge disadvantage.

Even though we are now free from the EU’s shackles, I am not sure the lessons have been learned. By 2030, there will be no new petrol/diesel fuelled cars in the UK and no combustion engines either, no matter what fuel these engines could use. But the EU only bans new petrol/diesel fuelled cars by 2035 and even then new combustion engines can be produced as long they use synthetic fuels. We put gold plate upon gold plate.

The Government needs to rethink, and rethink fast. Go back to core Conservative principles of pragmatism, common-sense and security. Look at what is happening in the real world not what the fashionable green-at-all-costs evangelists and London’s metropolitan elite think. They have no idea what life is like in Lincolnshire, Lancashire or Leeds. Even my colleagues on the Public Accounts Committee have now cast doubt on the credibility of the Government’s green electricity plans. The same doubt is certainly there on the credibility of the Government green fuel plans. It is not too late for a change in policy but every day that passes compounds a risky policy and a conscious policy direction that makes no sense.

Karl McCartney MP is a Member of the Transport Select Committee

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