The UK Government’s plan to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles is 23 whole years away. Scotland can do better.

Help us push for a 2030 phase-out as part of a strong new climate bill: act.foe.scot/climate-action

The UK Government’s announcement to phase out fossil fuel vehicles by 2040 may have at first glance seemed like something to cheer about.

But a plan to clean up air in 23 years time is not good enough for the many people whose lives are impacted on a daily basis by toxic air now. What’s more, the ban is so far off that the Government is simply leaving the electrification of our transport to market forces rather than actually setting the pace of change.

Glasgow traffic
Glasgow traffic © Kristofer Keane

It’s worth remembering that Wednesday’s announcement was part of a suite of newly released air quality plans that the UK Courts, applying European air quality laws, forced the Government to publish. European law requires air quality safety standards to be met as soon as possible, not in 2040.

Norway and Germany are aiming for a 2025 phase-out date for fossil fuelled vehicles. India has also one-upped the UK by a decade, with a 2030 target date to phase out fossil fuelled vehicles.

Is the Scottish Government hiding?

But whilst much of this week’s wrath was focused on the UK Government’s headline-grabbing 2040 announcement, in Scotland we might rightly ask, where are Nicola Sturgeon and Roseanna Cunningham in all this?

Air quality is devolved, meaning it is solely the Scottish Government’s responsibility to meet EU air quality laws in Scotland. European air quality laws are being broken in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Perth, and Dundee. Stricter Scottish air quality standards are being broken in a total of 38 Pollution Zones which span 14 local councils. Traffic-borne air pollution may be invisible to the naked eye, but Scotland clearly has a problem. Air pollution has been linked with cancers, heart attacks, and even babies being born prematurely.

Tackling air pollution is also about tackling climate change: transport is now the leading source of climate change emissions in Scotland. Progress has been made in every other sector in the last two decades, but transport emissions remain stubbornly stuck at 1990 levels – a testament to lack of Government action in this quarter.

With 2500 early deaths from air pollution each year in Scotland, and a new Climate Change Bill brewing, what new proposals did the Scottish Government put on the table on Wednesday, and how committed is it to tackling this crisis?

The answer is, it put almost nothing new on the table. Its input into the new plans is practically identical to the UK’s 2015 air quality plan, which was ruled illegal by the High Court for failing to be ambitious enough. The only substantive change since 2015 was its commitment to introducing Scotland’s first Low Emission Zone (LEZ) by 2018. Whilst we support the LEZ plan, it’s patently obvious that a single LEZ in one city will not be able to tackle the unsafe levels of air quality which persist across 14 councils.

Time to step on it

In order to tackle air pollution as soon as possible, the Scottish Government must first build on and improve its commitment to Scotland’s first Low Emission Zone by 2018. We need details on where the Zone will be and how it will be funded, as well as a commitment to introduce LEZs in every major city with illegal air pollution levels: Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, and Dundee.

Secondly, the Scottish Government must make our transport systems less dominated by the car by investing at least 10% of its transport budget in walking and cycling, and by re-regulating Scotland’s bus sector.

And finally – the Scottish Government should use the new Climate Change Act to phase out petrol and diesel vehicle sales by 2030 at the very latest. A target like this would put Scotland among the world’s climate leaders – setting the pace of change, not leaving it to market forces.


Take action now to call on the Scottish Government for a tough new Climate Act: act.foe.scot/climate-action