According to Fuel taxes and beyond: UK transport and climate change, published by WWF, if the current trends in car ownership and travel continue, car fuel efficiency will have to increase by 400% in the next 20 years. This means that cars will need to achieve an average of 113 miles per gallon by 2020, cutting CO2 emissions by 40%, says WWF, to ensure that they are on schedule to achieve the 60% cut in CO2 on 1990 levels by 2050 required to mitigate the effects of climate change, as suggested by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in a report last year.

Over the past five years, however, the UK has shown the poorest rate of improvement in reducing CO2 emissions from new vehicles compared to the rest of Europe, with the possible exception of Finland for whom only incomplete data was available, says WWF. Whereas Sweden, the country showing the highest improvement, achieved a reduction in CO2 emissions of 9.2%, the UK achieved only 3.3% reduction (see related story). The report has looked at the cars being marketed and sold in the UK, irrespective of where they have been manufactured, a WWF spokesperson explained to edie. The UK car buying public are purchasing bigger gas-guzzling vehicles, with fuel efficiency not being considered a high priority.

“For a country that claims to be leading the way in reducing its impact upon climate change this bottom ranking is not good enough,” said Ute Collier, Head of WWF’s UK Climate Change Programme. “If consumers chose more efficient cars, they would also make huge savings on their fuel expenditures.”

“New technology on its own will not save us from climate melt down,” said Stephen Joseph, Director of Transport 2000. “We must also be looking at improving public transport so that it can provide a serious alternative to the car, making changes to transport taxes as well as promoting more fuel efficient vehicles. Driver behaviour also has to change.”

Motorists and hauliers would be able to save 5-10% on their fuel bills by adopting more fuel efficient driving behaviour, says WWF. The report highlights one innovative driving programme in The Netherlands which promotes more efficient driving styles, including starting the engine without using the accelerator, changing up through the gears at relatively low revs, driving in the highest comfortable gear at any given speed, and remaining in high gear when decelerating.

At the climate change conference in The Hague in November, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced an extra £69 million over three years to tackle pollution and cut the cost of motoring by promote cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars (see related story).

Last year’s fuel protest was seen by environmentalists as a further sign that UK car drivers are forgetting their responsibilities towards the environment (see related story). The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution also told MPs in July that the environment appeared to have been forgotten by organisations and newspapers campaigning for a cut in road fuel duty.

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