The west’s thirst for oil comes at a very high price. Last year, the UK imported £3.3 billion worth of oil from Russia, which supplies nearly a fifth (19 per cent) of all the UK’s diesel. Each time we fill up a tank with diesel we typically hand Vladimir Putin – and his oligarchs – around £3 to £4. This is helping to bankroll the Russian onslaught of Ukraine and is undermining our own security.
About a third of the diesel used in the UK is burned in cars, a third is used in vans and trucks and the remainder is for heating or electricity production in homes and industry. Diesel consumption in transport peaked in 2017 and will slowly decline as older diesel vehicles are scrapped and replaced by electric vehicles. The UK’s current plan, to end the sale of new cars with combustion engines in 2030 and shift to new zero emission cars and vans by 2035, and trucks by 2040, will accelerate diesel’s decline.
But changing the mix of vehicles on the road takes years. We have only weeks to act if we are to hit Putin in the pocket, to derail his assault on Ukraine and end the threat to our NATO allies. We need to act faster.
The UK embargo of Russian oil that comes into force at the end of the year will further squeeze the Russian economy and make it harder for Putin to fund his war. But, overall, the main effect of the embargo will be to shuffle oil supplies. Russia, along with many other corrupt and despotic regimes, will continue to be sustained by our oil addiction. The west’s Russian oil embargo would be far more effective if we didn’t replace Russian oil with other oil, but instead used a lot less. This would help to reduce the oil price, the cost of living crisis and feed fewer oil dollars to Russia and other regimes that undermine our security.
Reducing our oil addiction will help to defund Russia’s war in Ukraine
Here are five simple steps that, together, could halve the amount of Russia’s dirty diesel used in our cars, vans and trucks this year and help to defund the war:
1. Cut the speed limit on motorways
Enforcing a new limit of 60mph would save over 1.5 per cent of diesel fuel. A 100 mile trip would take just over an hour and a half instead of just under, which is a small price to pay.
2. Car sharing
With a little organisation many car trips can be shared. Schools should be required to develop travel plans that connect parents and staff making similar trips. School buses could be increased and more children could be encouraged to cycle. A quarter of car trips to school are typically avoided when school travel plans are implemented. This would deliver around a one per cent reduction in UK transport diesel use with the added benefit of reducing local congestion and improving air quality.
Businesses should also be asked to cut business travel and commuting by car and help employees to car share. Workplace travel plans typically save 14 per cent of trips, so cutting just ten per cent of business and commuting miles is possible and would reduce UK transport diesel use by nearly two per cent. Large employers should be required to develop and implement plans this year.
3. Competition rules should be relaxed to allow haulage and delivery companies to collaborate
This would reduce empty running, increase loading and eliminate multiple daily deliveries. A home delivery tax with higher rates for same and next day deliveries would encourage online shoppers to reduce the frequency of deliveries. A reduction of just 2.5 per cent in the number of truck and van movements would cut the UK’s diesel fuel use by the same amount.
4. Encourage switching
Seven per cent of car trips are less than a mile and 24 per cent are less than two miles. If a quarter of these car trips could be walked or cycled, we would save over 0.5 per cent of transport diesel. If, in addition, just five per cent of car trips were switched onto public transport (and electric buses provided additional services) the diesel saving would be about 1.25 per cent. The government should use the £5 billion a year extra in VAT revenues, earned due to higher fuel prices, to subsidise public transport and reduce fares, benefitting many, rather than cutting diesel costs for just some drivers.
5. Encourage better driving and vehicle maintenance
The way we drive and maintain our cars has a huge effect on the amount of fuel they consume. By driving slower and more smoothly, correctly inflating tyres, removing unnecessary weight from car boots and regular maintenance, fuel savings of at least five per cent and up to ten per cent are possible. A public awareness campaign should teach drivers how they can cut their fuel use and bills.
The combined effect of these five steps would be to reduce our total diesel imports within weeks by nearly ten per cent, half the amount we currently import from Russia, hugely improving the impact of the Russian oil embargo. Further details are available here.
Long term transport decarbonisation is a security solution
But there’s plenty more that could be done to reduce UK oil use. More freight could be shifted onto rail, and cycle deliveries could be used in urban areas. More bus lanes would speed up public transport and increase its appeal. More cycle lanes would make it safer to ride. And all these changes would complement the shift to electric vehicles.
Answers to our long term energy security are not sweetheart details with other despots but permanent reductions in oil demand by getting a move on with the UK’s transport decarbonisation plan. If we adopt the right measures we can simultaneously tackle the triple threat of Russia, the cost of living crisis and climate catastrophe. Reducing oil demand is one such triple win solution that no responsible government should ignore.