Over the past fifty years an increasing amount of commercial vehicles have been using the UK’s roads, meaning that at the same time traffic and pollution have also increased. To make matters worse, it has recently been announced that diesel powered engines are extremely bad for both the environment and the public and have even been linked to thousands of deaths.
Back in 2001 the Labour party offered incentives to consumers in order to encourage them to purchase diesel powered vehicles and worked with a number of commercial vehicle manufacturers in order to convince them to produce more diesel vans and trucks. All of this was in aid of reducing the amount of CO2 emissions in the UK and while this was achieved, it came with a disastrous price – NO2 levels rising.
When burned, diesel emits NO2 as well as dozens of particulates which can be absorbed by the lungs, brain and heart. In built up urban areas the results have been fatal in some cases, while others have suffered from asthma and other breathing related diseases. This is why Barry Gardiner, the shadow Environment minister, has recently admitted that the Labour government made a mistake. In a statement he said: “Hands up — there’s absolutely no question that the decision we took was the wrong decision. But at that time we didn’t have the evidence that subsequently we did have.”
“We also [expected] cleaner diesel engines, which we thought meant that any potential problem was a lower-grade problem than the problem we were trying to solve of CO2. It was right to move away from vehicles that push out CO2, but the impact is a massive public health problem. The real tragedy is after we set up the committee on the medical effects of air pollution and it reported back in 2010 we’ve had five years that this government has done nothing about it.”
However, even though Mr Gardiner claims that the government has left it too late to fix the problem there is no doubting that they are trying to change things now. Recently, London Mayor Boris Johnson announced that by 2020 an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) will be introduced in London – an area which no diesel vehicle will be permitted to enter.
The government is also planning on offering new incentives to customers who buy ultra-low emission vehicles such as those that are powered by electricy. Furthermore, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) is hosting a debate on Wednesday 11th February in order to discuss how buses, coaches and commercial vehicles can help reduce air pollution in the UK.
Discussing the event, Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “Buses, coaches, vans and trucks are crucial to the functioning of the UK. Manufacturers have invested heavily in clean Euro-6 technology, which is already playing a vital role in reducing all emissions and making significant improvements to air quality. These vehicles feature the latest emission-reducing technologies, which in tests on London’s 159 bus route, demonstrated an 85-fold reduction in NOx emissions over the previous Euro-5 standard.
“However, as this new air quality event will show, vehicle technology is only part of the solution. To help it reach its full potential, we now need to engage policy makers, operators and manufacturers to facilitate a cohesive and sustainable transport policy framework. UK government and local authorities must work together with industry to support the uptake of Euro-6 vehicles. Effective traffic management policies and systems – such as low emission zones – need to be developed in and around the UK’s towns and cities.”
Unfortunately, the legacy of diesel vehicles on the UK’s environment looks set to remain for a number of years. Furthermore, until it becomes cheaper to invest, insure and run ultra-low emission commercial vehicles it is unlikely that individuals or businesses will start investing in them anytime soon.