Every conversation about reducing urban air pollution revolves around how to cut down traffic, put charges on polluting vehicles to phase them out, introduce a targeted scrappage to help people get out of dirty cars into better alternatives, and put rules in place that will help reduce emissions from other polluting sources such as industry and construction.
So far, so good. All of these measures are necessary and as you might know, Greenpeace has been running a campaign in London to ensure that the ultra low emissions zone proposed by the Mayor is implemented. Once in place, such a zone will ensure that all vehicles on our roads today–cars, cabs, private hire vehicles, buses, trucks, lorries and vans are adhering to particular standards and old and polluting ones are gradually phased out.
But all of these measures could come undone if we don’t acknowledge the ongoing role of the car industry in health crisis we are facing – and the new cars, particularly new diesel cars, that are adding more fuel to the fire. New cars are supposed to have better technology, they are supposed to pollute less and should be encouraged, right? Wrong.
Turns out brand new diesel cars–and I am talking about diesel cars standing in massive parking lots getting ready to be put in swanky glass showrooms and rolled off for test drives–are polluting up to 15 times more than what they should be.
To add insult to injury, ‘clean diesel’ is also a myth. Diesel cars were promoted in the 90s because they allegedly emitted 15-30% less carbon than their petrol counterparts. But this is simply not true any more. In recent years, diesel cars, especially small ones produce as much carbon dioxide as petrol cars.
Independent analyses by research organisations and the Department of Transport have shown that the only place these shiny new cars pollute within limits is when they are being tested in the labs. Once they on the road, they pollute far more.
How is that possible you ask? This is because car companies have for years gamed the lab tests in creative, but still ‘legal’ ways which include taping over cracks around doors and grills to minimise air resistance, using special super-lubricants, stopping the car’s battery recharging, adjusting the wheel alignment and brakes, and testing at unrealistically high temperatures and on super-slick test-tracks.
And this is not new, this has been happening for years. Every time campaigners have tried to push the car companies to agree to real world emissions testing, they have pushed back and postponed the timeline.
And here we are, a good one year after the VW scandal, and brand new diesel cars still emitting up to 15 times more when driven on the roads. The government knows it too. In fact, it’s spent £1m worth of taxpayers money to conduct tests and found none of the diesel cars were meeting pollution standards. And decided to do nothing about it. If there were any other product that was not fit for purpose, and harming health of its citizens, the government would have been asked to end their sales altogether too.
It is not the fault of people who drive these cars. They were encouraged to buy diesel cars over the last couple of decades and offered subsidies and tax breaks to do so, today nearly 50% of cars on Uk roads are now diesel, and this has left UK battling with illegal levels of air pollution.
Better standards for all vehicle types are needed and diesel cars are just the tip of the iceberg. Cleaner trucks, vans and lorries are also needed to clean up our air quality. But hybrid and electric alternatives to heavy vehicles are not easily available. Yet we also know that cleaner alternatives to diesel cars are available, and are available now. There is no time to wait.
If you would like to join the campaign to stop air pollution, please sign the petition to Theresa May to ban sales of new diesel cars.
Areeba Hamid is a senior campaigner at Greenpeace.