Is demonising diesel putting air quality at risk?

Is demonising diesel putting air quality at risk?
The Government’s decision to repeatedly punish diesel drivers may be hampering its efforts to improve air quality, new figures suggest.

According to Department for Transport (DfT) figures, carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the UK are on the up for the first time since 2003, as more and more car buyers turn their backs on out-of-favour diesels.

The numbers suggest the average new car sold in 2017 produces more CO2 than its equivalent from last year, with thousands returning to petrol as the message on diesel emissions is hammered home.

READ MORE: Diesel demand dramatically down in new car figures

The Government has chosen to penalise diesel owners in a variety of ways ever since the fuel’s green credentials were undermined in the VW Group's emissions cheating scandal in 2005. In some cases cars were found to be emitting up to 40 times more harmful gases than official figures suggested.

Among the measures, in last month’s Budget the Chancellor's announced he would increase first-year tax for anyone who buys a new diesel car from April next year.

But experts have started questioning whether or not this insistence on dissuading car buyers away from diesel is actually having an adverse effect on the environment.

Uncovered by car-selling site Buyacar.co.uk, the DfT’s figures show the average new car bought in the first 10 months of 2017 produces 121.1g of CO2 per kilometre – in contrast to the 120.3g/km average for 2016.

There is expected to be a further fall in new diesel registrations for December, meaning a 14-year track record of greenhouse gas reduction looks distinctly under threat.

Buyacar.co.uk said the increase in average CO2 outputs could be tracked to a 16% slump in diesel vehicle sales this year.

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Director at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), Tamzen Isacsson, says that if industry is to meet “challenging CO2 targets” then getting more of the latest low-emission diesels onto the UK’s roads is crucial.

She blamed “confusion around government air quality plans and taxation” for the yearly decline in diesel sales.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We will seek to maintain ambitious targets and our leadership position, and intervening firmly if not enough progress is being made.

“Our ambitious Clean Growth Strategy includes investing nearly £1.5 billion in accelerating the roll-out of ultra-low emission vehicles by 2020 – generating business opportunities and leading to cleaner air and lower greenhouse gas emissions.”

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