RAC

20 years of environmental debate

Mankind's impact on the environment has been the subject of debate for decades.

But reducing CO2 emissions is not so easy. The recent volatility in oil prices has brought into sharp focus our dependence on oil and the need to find viable alternatives.

Put this alongside consumers' fears about the credit crunch as well as the recession, and it is not surprising that many people are starting to ask questions about the future of motoring. So, have we now reached a crossroads in terms of motoring and our relationship with the car? Will things ever go back to the way they were even just two or three years ago? And if not, how does our dependence on our cars, our habits and our attitudes to motoring need to change?

Twenty years ago, the issue that was uppermost in people's and legislators' minds was the impact of vehicle pollution. Cars then were noisier and dirtier; and they emitted a wide range of toxins. Lead and particulates were of particular concern due to their detrimental effects on health.

In fact, in the survey conducted for the 1989 RAC Report on Motoring, 81% of drivers thought that exhaust fumes represented a "serious" threat to the environment. There was a sense that we had to find a way to stop polluting.

EU directives created a series of ever more stringent emissions targets for vehicle manufacturers, beginning in 1996, with further increments in 2000, 2005 and 2010. And as manufacturers produced more cars able to run on 'unleaded', leaded fuel was phased out of general sale by 2000.

In the 2007 Budget, the Government commissioned Professor Julia King to carry out an independent review of vehicle and fuel technologies. The report set down a 25 year plan for reducing the carbon emissions produced by road transport and in particular cars. The King Review of Low Carbon Cars was published in two stages, the first set out the potential for reducing CO2 emissions from road transport in the short, medium and long term2. The second part picked up on the challenges faced by society in producing more efficient vehicles, cleaner fuels and smarter consumer choices3. The report also highlighted the importance of setting a long-term direction for policy that has CO2 at its heart.

Global warming and the challenge to curb CO2 emissions

In 2006, total UK CO2 emissions4 were almost 555 million tonnes. Transport emissions produced by passenger cars, buses, mopeds and motorcycles accounted for 16% (87 million tonnes) of CO2 emissions.

In October 2008, the Government made a commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 20505. The impact of travel on the environment is also being addressed through policies focusing on the fossil carbon content of fuel, the fuel efficiency of vehicles, more environmentally friendly forms of transport and the inclusion of transport in emissions trading schemes.

Motorists' perspectives on the environment

The environment and motorists