ClientEarth have recently brought a new case against the UK government to challenge its continued failure to protect people’s health against the harmful effects of air pollution.


This move could well have been prompted by the government’s recent U-turn on automotive legislation. Even though diesels emit less CO₂ than petrol engines and were once seen as the cleaner option, new learnings on the harmful effect of NOx emissions produced by older diesel engines has led to a complete (and erroneous) change of heart. Erroneous? New EU6 diesel engines are now as clean as the equivalent petrol engines.

‘Dieselgate’ accelerated this rush to desert diesel for petrol in huge numbers; so much so that the UK diesel market dropped by a whopping 25%+ in 2017. The net result of fewer diesel sales is that average CO₂ emissions for all new cars sold in the UK actually increased for the first time since we started measuring this. Crazy!

The Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) have declared that long-term legislative and fiscal policies are now needed to ensure consumers make the shift to plug-in hybrids and alternative fuels. That’s because there is still a prohibitive cost premium on electric vehicles and, importantly, significant improvements still need to be made to the infrastructure.

There is, however, some evidence that we are turning a corner. The latest generation of vehicles, especially commercial vehicles, are equipped with the technology to meet and even exceed the government’s latest targets. For example, the most polluted road in the UK was Putney High Street and, now that new Euro6 buses are being used there, we have seen a welcome and substantial reduction in emissions. 

But a raft of research produced over the past ten years suggests that the experts could be looking in completely the wrong direction, if we’re serious about curbing pollution levels.

One particular report has claimed that the 16 largest ships in the world are producing more pollution than all the cars in the world put together¹. More recent studies have supported this truly astounding assertion. The claim is all down to the extraordinarily high levels of sulphur oxides (SOx) and nitrous oxides (NOx) they produce.

Since this information first emerged, new legislation has begun to address the devastating issue of maritime emissions. However, the reality is that this situation is harder to turn around than the proverbial oil tanker.


The most obvious solution, it seems, would be to switch shipping fuel to Liquid Natural Gas. This would represent the biggest technological advance in the shipping industry for 100 years but, like most things on a global scale, this transition is a lot easier said than done.

In the meantime, automotive manufacturers, prompted by even tougher legislation, are doing everything they can to reduce emissions. Indeed, the pace of the industry’s improvements are staggering, and put pretty much every other sector to shame.

Yet it seems the car industry has become an easily identifiable and taxable whipping boy. Especially when you consider that automotive emissions are a mere drop in the ocean, compared to what is going on elsewhere….



¹ https://newatlas.com/shipping-pollution/11526/


Associate Director and all round Petrolhead

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