British Government's chief scientific adviser calls for petrol car ban

By Severin Carrell, The Independent, 17th February 2002

See also EVUK footnote.

Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser has called for a complete ban on the sale of petrol-and diesel-powered cars, in one of the most dramatic proposals yet made on tackling climate change.

Professor David King told The Independent on Sunday that Britain should follow the example of Lombardy, a heavily-industrialised region in northern Italy, which is to ban the sale of fossil-fuel powered cars from 1 January 2005.

Professor King, the Government's most senior scientist, said a fixed target would force car makers and oil companies to develop "green" cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells and electricity.

"I think we need a State of Lombardy-type statement from the UK," he said. "We need to be pressing for the economic drivers which are required to bring these technologies to Britain."

His remarks are the first time any Government adviser has advocated such a tough policy on car use.

"This is a hugely significant statement from someone at the centre of Government," said Tony Juniper, director designate of Friends of the Earth. "Until now, the Government has failed to recognise that, logically, we must phase out fossil fuels. Hopefully, Tony Blair will listen."

Imposing a deadline would shock the car and oil industries which sold more than 2.2m new cars, worth about £30bn, and 29 billion litres of fuel in the UK in 2000. They will claim that Lombardy and California, which has imposed a zero-emissions policy for new cars, are chiefly concerned with cutting urban air pollution rather than climate change.

Environment campaigners argue, however, that road transport is responsible for about 25 per cent of Britain's annual CO2 emissions of roughly 152 million tonnes, and is the only major sector which is increasing its CO2 emissions.

Professor King refused to be drawn on which year should be chosen but said "green" cars would soon be widely available. Major car and oil companies such as Ford, Chrysler, Shell and BP already have an "impressive" joint project to test various hydrogen-fuelled cars in the United States. Ford has begun selling a solely electric two-seater car, The Think, and the British company Johnson Matthey is, he said, close to unveiling hydrogen fuel cells for buses and cars.

Professor King's intervention follows the publication last Thursday of the Government's energy review, which set out new proposals to promote renewable energy.

Professor King said that Downing Street's Policy and Innovation Unit report had failed to highlight the scale of the climate change crisis "as clearly as I would have liked to see it".

EVUK comment: Professor King's unprecedented, almost heretical intervention has predictably been completely ignored by the rest of Britain's mainstream news media - including the BBC. No surprise of course - given that Britain's media is now even more completely whored-out to the car-advertisers and the 'keep-things-as-they-are' car-lobby than ever it once was to the tobacco-industry.... As to whether our Prime Minister will actually heed King's advice...we reckon the chances are about as high as the emissions-levels and petrol-tax-revenues from a Solectria Sunrise ie. ZERO. Pigs might indeed fly - but cash-cows take a whole lot of shifting...

Footnote follow-up:

1) BBC Radio 4 did post the following EVUK/Carlucci missive for 5 whole days(27 Feb-4 Mar) on its "World at One/Yoursay" website:

Sir/Madam, As far as I can tell, no-one appears to have pointed out the clear logical-link that exists between two momentous, but at first glance, seemingly unrelated announcements made in the last ten days or so by two top leading Government science professors on the subject of transport technology. Firstly, as reported in the Independent on Sunday on Feb 17 (..a story strangely ignored - if not indeed - * 'buried' without trace by the rest of the media) , Tony Blair's Chief Scientific Adviser Professor David King broke ranks - as well as a virtual taboo - by calling on the Goverment to ban, as soon as posssible, the sale of all petrol- and diesel -powered cars and to speed up their replacement with 'Kyoto-friendly' hydrogen and electric alternatives.

Then, just one week later, Professor Begg famously revealed to the nation how the Government, understandably, in the context and wake of Professor King's announcement., hopes to use GPS-based charging devices to compensate for the dramatic loss of petrol-tax that will inevitably result from the widespread adoption of these zero-emission and, by definition, 'zero-petrol-tax' vehicles.

( Note: technology already exists that will allow both fuel cell and electric vehicles to be refuelled/recharged cheaply at home from any mains electricity source.)

I suspect it is no accident that these two logically closely-linked proposals were made separately but in very close succession - and in both instances not by Labour politicians themselves but at a safe, flak-deflecting distance by, so-to-speak, third-party academics and technology-specialists..


* the word "buried" has a pointed topical significance here - as most Brits know all too well : moments after the Sept 11 attacks a young, aspiring Ministry of Transport spin-mistress - a certain Jo Moore - advised colleagues in a mega-notorious email-memo that "this might be a good time to bury bad news" ie. about transport issues. See BBC photo-report.

2) USA Today was alone - 3 weeks later - in echoing Professor King's unprecedented, voice-in-the-wilderness call for the replacement of the Internal Combustion Engine - BUT that article now ominously appears to have vanished from the newspaper's website/archive. Only EVworld has a web-copy of the "incriminating evidence".

3) BBC Radio 4's World At One/Yoursay website still also holds an archived (later)contribution from EVUK's Paul GOVAN on this same subject - a missive this time prompted by a headlining, unconvincing Tony Blair speech backing "science, research and innovation". Go to BBC World at One Archive for 5/6/2002 -then ctrl+FIND on keyword(s): GOVAN/zero emission/David King ...or similar.

(Also from The Independent: "Car fumes give children asthma". )

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