As the UK trudges its way out of its latest nationwide lockdown, we face an even greater issue – the climate crisis. Yet one lesson that can be learned from the Covid-19 pandemic is just how quickly we can act when faced with adversity, if society, government, and business work together.
When it comes to the climate crisis, the impact of Covid-19 has not been the negative story that was initially expected. UK consumers, for instance, are increasingly turning to electric vehicles, with demand up 185.9% in 2020 compared with 2019, despite a historic slowdown in car sales. The finance industry, too, has seen a rise in the demand for sustainable and ESG-related (environmental, social, and governance) products, which indicates that sustainable investing has turned a corner despite the grim economic consensus.
Yet more needs to be done to tackle the climate crisis. If we can learn anything from the countries who have most successfully contained the Covid-19 crisis, it is that to act early, and to act comprehensively, has stood them in good stead. Those who failed to act until it was too late are still bearing the brunt today.
Reading the papers, you might think that the scale of the climate crisis has been grasped, yet even the most forward-thinking measures simply do not go far enough. The UK for its part must up its game in the net-zero challenge, harnessing the power of civil society, government, and business to tackle the climate crisis.
One area where consumers, businesses, and government can work together is on electric vehicle adoption. Momentum is building, but much more needs to be done.
First of all, while EV sales grew in 2020, only nine percent of motorists plan to ‘go electric’ when they next purchase a car. A full 78% of drivers are still put off by the price of EVs, indicating that the green alternative is still out of the price range of British motorists. With many in the UK facing unemployment and hardship in the months to come, this is a crucial sticking point for EV adoption.
The UK Government already offers a Plug-in Car Grant for electric vehicle owners, but an increase would offer valuable respite. Motorists also favour VAT on zero-emissions vehicles being cut or abolished. Given the UK Government’s much-publicised commitment to phase out the sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, this should be a no-brainer. Instead of focusing energies on how to fund the tax shortfall of this commitment, the focus should be on the short term – how to encourage mass adoption of electric vehicles so that the 2030 target is met as soon as possible.
This is even more urgent given that the UK Government has repeatedly brought forward plans to phase out new petrol and diesel cars.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, even if adoption increases, the UK’s EV charging network leaves much to be desired. The UK still places behind the Netherlands, France and Germany in terms of its number of public charge points, and it needs to drastically improve its number of points per EV as demand grows. A briefing produced by the Policy Exchange think tank suggests that in order to prepare for the new 2030 target, new charge points need to be installed at a rate of 35,000 per year, up from the current average of 7000.
Simply installing a number of charge points in densely populated areas won’t work either. Business fleets and drivers in rural locations will all need to have a consistent approach across the whole of the UK if they are to seriously consider EVs. In addition, in order to incentivise consumers, they will need to be convinced that the vehicle will be suitable not only for short trips to and from the shops, but longer trips, too.
As part of its November 2020 announcement, the UK Government pledged £1.3 billion to accelerate the roll-out of charge points – a headache-inducing figure. Yet in January 2021, it announced a pitiful £20 million fund for councils to create on-street charge points by April 2022, providing funding for 8000 on-street chargers. This clearly falls short of the accelerated rollout that is needed.
The Government needs to add to its commitment by bringing business on board, creating better incentives for businesses to install charge points for employees and customers, as well as incentivising them to electrify their own fleets as much as possible.
This Government claims big ambitions when it comes to the electric vehicle revolution, but consumers and businesses alike must hold them to account on their promises. The UK must step up its game in the net-zero challenge – and electric vehicles must be a part of that solution.
Archie MacPherson, group managing director, Pilot Group