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U.K. To Ban Diesel And Gas Cars In 2040


Britain plans a radical step against pollution. The country that started the Industrial Revolution and all the pollution that followed and was later the scene of the deadly London fog - that was a thing - now wants to lead a revolution in fuel. Today the U.K. is unveiling a plan to ban all new cars, vans and trucks that run on diesel or gas - or do that eventually. NPR's Joanna Kakissis joins us from London. Hi, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How's the air where you are?

KAKISSIS: Well, you know, it seems really fine to me on this very crisp morning. But, you know, when scientists tested it, it's not so great.

Clean air advocates have said that, like, the nitrogen dioxide levels emitted by most diesel vehicles here is, like, above the legal limits in almost 90 percent of areas in the U.K. And it's estimated to cause something like 23,000 early deaths per year.


KAKISSIS: So - yeah. So they want more details about what this plan - this big announcement by the U.K. - is going to do, how it's going to actually solve the problem quickly.

INSKEEP: OK, quickly - there's a key word because this is a plan to get rid of all new vehicles using gas or diesel by 2040, which is a bit in the future. What do people think of this?

KAKISSIS: We spoke to an automotive specialist here in Britain who talked a little bit about why there is some concern that this is a bit of a smokescreen. His name is David Bailey of the Aston Business School in Birmingham, and here's what he said.

DAVID BAILEY: Banning petrol and diesel cars by 2040 is a good move, I think. It sets a clear direction of travel for the industry. But in many senses, it's pretty irrelevant. It's a bit like saying we'll be banning steam engines by 2040 because we won't be buying petrol or diesel cars in 2040. Electric cars will already be here.

INSKEEP: Oh, because the market is creating them. First, Joanna, a congratulations for the pun for using the phrase smokescreen in this discussion of pollution. Well done.

KAKISSIS: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: But what does the auto industry think about all of this?

KAKISSIS: So the auto industry is sort of heading in this direction anyway. You know, it should be noted that they were really embarrassed by the scandal over diesel emissions at Volkswagen a while back. And they know people like the idea of buying non-polluting cars because of global warming. And our motoring expert David Bailey said - has offered some ideas about how to incentivize people into buying - into trading in their diesel cars for non-polluting cars. And here's David again.

BAILEY: I think the auto industry is up for a transition to electric vehicles. But they also say that, look, people were incentivized to go out and buy diesel cars in an effort to tackle global warming. Now, from a wider perspective, that was a wrong turn. If we're going to get people out of diesel cars, they need to be incentivized through something like a scrappage scheme, where people are paid to trade them in to go for electric cars.

INSKEEP: Oh, because you can keep using the same car for 10 years or 20 years or 50 years if you really want to.

KAKISSIS: That's right. It's similar to the clunkers for cash program that you may remember from a while back, where we traded in our old car for something new. In this case, you'd be paid to - you know, to trade in your diesel car for a gas power - or your diesel or gas-powered car for an electric car, a clean car.

INSKEEP: So are they going to do anything significant before 2040 then?

KAKISSIS: That's the - that's a concern. And that's why people are saying, where are the details? I mean, this sounds like a great political statement. You look really good saying it, but we want to know exactly what you're going to do because it doesn't sound like you're going to be doing much.

INSKEEP: OK, Joanna, thanks for helping us to catch a breath.

KAKISSIS: (Laughter). Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Joanna Kakissis. She is in London, where the U.K. is set to unveil a plan to eventually get rid of all diesel and gas-powered vehicles.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BEST PESSIMIST'S "INNER SENSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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