To be a climate leader, the UK needs a ZEV mandate

This post is by Nick Fletcher, MP for Don Valley. It was originally published by Business Green.

The Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng recently updated MPs on the prime minister’s Ten point plan for a green industrial revolution. He highlighted how the plan would create over a quarter of a million jobs and reduce carbon emissions.

The fourth point in the plan includes the commitment to accelerate the shift to zero emissions vehicles. The UK has already announced a ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2030 and will review whether plug-in hybrid vehicles can be sold until 2035. While this is an admirable ambition, I see no reason why we should not go further in encouraging the public to purchase more electric vehicles than they do currently. After all, considering that approximately a third of our carbon emissions come from transport, rapidly electrifying the automotive sector should be at the top of the government’s agenda.

There’s a clear case for the UK to follow California’s lead
When it comes to pioneering electric vehicles, it is clear that the UK should follow the example set by California. Here, the state government has introduced a zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) mandate. As a result, manufacturers must sell a set proportion of zero emissions vehicles or purchase credits from other manufacturers. When manufacturers don’t reach the set targets, they have to buy ZEV credits from competitors. Manufacturers who exceed the targets meanwhile can make money from selling credits. In this vast west coast state, the result of the mandate has been a decrease in the price of ZEVs while making the sale of carbon emitting vehicles more expensive. 

A new report by Green Alliance has demonstrated the success of California’s ZEV mandate, with the share of battery car sales increasing nearly fourfold since 2015. If trends continue, battery electric vehicles are forecast to reach over a quarter of all sales by 2025 and up to almost 60 per cent of sales in the state by 2030.

The UK needs to rethink how it promotes electric vehicles
Currently, the British government supports the purchase of ZEVs through the plug-in car grant and through other measures. Yet, the financial burden of maintaining such a policy is extremely high. Between 2011 and 2020, the plug-in grant cost £800 million. The Department for Transport’s own figures has predicted the figure to rise by another £400 million by the end of the financial year 2022-23. At the current rate ZEVs are being purchased, the UK will struggle to meet its own net zero targets if it does not rapidly rethink how it promotes this industry.

A ZEV mandate, however, puts the cost on manufacturers. More importantly, if the data in California is to be replicated right here in the UK, it would also enable us to comfortably meet our targets. Therefore, the announcement of such a mandate would significantly strengthen the UK’s credibility ahead of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

The introduction of a mandate would symbolise the newly found flexibility on offer to the government when it comes to environmental policy now we are outside of the EU. This is due to the fact that as a result of the EU’s ‘four principles’, member states are prevented from banning petrol and diesel vehicles. Admittedly, I was not surprised to read that Denmark’s proposed policy to ban diesel cars in 2030 is seriously delayed as disputes have arisen over whether it violates EU compliance regulation. 

It’s a clear message to consumers
Overall, introducing a California style ZEV mandate would increase the supply of battery electric vehicles, reducing costs for consumers while ensuring that the government saves money. As we saw with the introduction of plastic bag charges, it would send a clear message to consumers. Last, introducing such a policy would also coincide with the government’s own levelling up agenda by accelerating electric vehicle production, thus securing the long term viability of the UK’s car manufacturing industry. It would also strengthen the case for investment along supply chains and secure green jobs by attracting domestic and foreign investment from manufacturers specialised in zero emission vehicles.

This government is serious about making the UK a world leader in tackling climate change. However, now is the time for ministers to be bold and make a ZEV mandate a core part of our plan to decarbonise the economy and bring forth a green industrial revolution.


  • What about national energy capacity.
    It is estimated we need six extra nuclear power plants if the Nation went ZEV.

    Clearly there needs to be a coordinated transition plan that is primarily driven by energy capacity, energy opportunity costs, energy and material efficiency and energy and material productivity.

    In other words, the climate crisis is juxtaposed with a potential energy crisis, a potential resource crisis and a biodiversity crisis, all driven by a human consumption crisis.

  • That’s all well and nice but Those “ZEV” are not really ZERO EVs… Those emissions are “zero” on a local level but are simply being diverted to other parts of the globe. Until those EVs are solely powered by renewables they are not ZEVs and we have a long ways to go. Far cheaper and convenient to promote cycling. The EVs you are so keen on are simply not affordable for the working classes or those of low income. I bought a hatchback for 10 grand, and after 7 years and 55,000 miles it is still cheaper than the cheapest hatchback EVs, this is taking into account initial purchase cost, maintenance, fuel, road tax, insurance (which I’m sure is going to be a bit more expensive on an EV).

    You’re up against two situations:
    People that need a low emission car that’s affordable
    People that could bike but don’t because of infrastructure

    We also need to address the throw-away nature of these EVs as well because once the battery and motor are toast, buying the replacement parts may cost more than owning an old petrol/diseasle, unless you’re placing ULEZ tariffs on the thing for over a year…

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