Electric dreams: an interview with transport minister Rachel Maclean

The UK is leading the way on decarbonising vehicles

January 24, 2021
“The work we are putting in today will put us at the forefront of the global zero-emission vehicle revolution”. © Leon Neal, WPA Pool/Getty Images
“The work we are putting in today will put us at the forefront of the global zero-emission vehicle revolution”. © Leon Neal, WPA Pool/Getty Images

Decarbonising our energy use means we’ll need to lean more heavily on electricity to get us from A to B. But electric vehicles aren’t just good for the environment—the coming boom in the sector could be beneficial for the UK economy, too.

Here, transport minister Rachel Maclean explains the government’s plans for powering this green revolution.

Why was the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles brought forward to 2030 last year?

We are taking steps now to end the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050. In June 2019, the UK became the first major global economy to pass legislation requiring us to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050.

In their June 2020 progress report, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), recommended that the UK go faster to limit emissions from road transport. So in November of last year, we announced an end to the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans in the UK by 2030, putting us on course to be the fastest G7 country to decarbonise these vehicles.

The transition to zero emission vehicles will improve air quality in our towns and cities and support economic growth. It will put us at the forefront of the electric vehicle revolution with vehicles built right here in the UK. And this new ambition will help cement the UK’s leading position in the design, manufacture, and use of zero emissions vehicles, which will provide economic opportunities by stimulating employment, investment and export.

Demand for zero emission vehicles is growing; with low running costs, falling vehicle prices and a growing national network of charging infrastructure, we believe more motorists will happily make the switch.

What makes electric vehicles so important to decarbonisation plans overall?

Cars and vans represent one fifth of UK domestic CO2 emissions and accounted for 70 per cent of domestic UK transport emissions in 2018. As such, ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans is key to us addressing our air quality and greenhouse gas issues.

As host of COP26, the UK is also leading the way on a global scale as we look to transition to a greener future. By working with international partners, governments, industry, businesses and civil society, we want to make the transition to zero emission vehicles easier, cheaper and faster for all.

Environmental imperatives aside, what is the government doing to maximise the economic benefits from the growth of electric vehicles?

The work we are putting in today will put us at the forefront of the global zero-emission vehicle revolution for many years to come.

As part of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, nearly £500m of funding for the Automotive Transformation Fund will be made available in the next four years to build an internationally competitive electric vehicle supply chain.

We also have a vast programme of support for the UK automotive sector and are investing in R&D and capital projects to develop and embed the next generation of zero emission vehicles and technologies in the UK. This is improving the productivity and competitiveness of automotive suppliers through an industry-led skills programme.

The infrastructure task here is significant, with one particular need being sufficient numbers and distribution of chargepoints. What’s the government’s plan to ensure this is in place?

Our vision is to have one of the best charging infrastructure networks in the world and we want chargepoints to be accessible, affordable and secure. In short, we want to make charging as easy as refuelling a petrol or diesel car. But we know that we cannot achieve this revolution on our own—that’s why these ambitions will be supported by an accompanying package of £2.8bn.

We’ve pledged £1.3bn to accelerate the roll out of charging infrastructure to support chargepoints on motorways and major A roads, in homes and businesses and on-street. This will help to alleviate any anxiety around long journeys. We’ve also promised £582m for plug-in vehicle grants.

We have already supported the installation of over 19,000 public charge-points, including 3,500 rapid devices, in partnership with local authorities and private sector investment, making it one of the largest networks in Europe.

Not only this, we’re also providing a grant of up to £350 towards the installation of home chargepoints. To date over 140,000 domestic chargepoint installations have benefited from these grants.

This article features in Prospect’s new “Green Recovery” report, published in partnership with SNC Lavalin, Atkins, Ricardo and the Aerospace Technology Institute. Read the full report PDF here.