Back in 2001 we witnessed CO2 hysteria. The world, anxious climate scientists told us, would heat up uncontrollably due to man-made CO2 hastening climate change and tail pipe-emission from passenger cars was a major cause. The European Union and governments round the world enacted legislation to clean up transport emissions and it has to be said that much of that legislation was a good thing. That's why modern petrol cars with catalytic convertors and oxygen sensors have become so much cleaner in the last decade. Its also fair to say the same legislative zeal from the EU has given us much more frugal fuel efficient engines and petrol cars that can achieve as much as 75 mpg. The car industry rose to the challenge and our new generation of Euro 5 and Euro 6 engines really are a significant technological achievement.
But that flurry of political activity to save the ozone layer brought some bad decisions too. And the worst was seeing diesel as a better alternative to petrol. Despite only producing slightly less CO2 than petrol, diesel was hailed as a greener fuel. In fact the Department for Transport told us that 'Compared to petrol, diesel vehicles have significantly lower levels of CO2 emissions per kilometre travelled because of the higher efficiency of of diesel engines and have a lower impact on climate change' . Even the Highway Code told new drivers that diesel cars would be a greener choice. Gordon Brown in his 2001 budget reduced the duty on diesel by 3p and it didn't take long for UK drivers to start buying diesel cars in their millions because that lower fuel duty translated lower cost at the pumps. High fuel duty on petrol encouraged consumers to wring every last mile from their cars and who can blame them for trying to save money? The end result of all that pro-diesel activity is that now half the cars on UK roads are now powered by diesel.
But that political evangelism forgot to look at other emissions from diesel, namely Nitrous Oxide and particulates. Which may not have seemed such a threat to climate change but have now become a public health time bomb. This is pollution you can actually see in the form of clouds of black particles from van, car, bus and taxi exhausts and those tiny particulates (or PM10s) are causing thousands of premature deaths a year. The car industry quickly fitted Diesel Particulate Filters to derv-powered cars, but these units block up quickly and have to be replaced or regenerated relatively regularly. The AA and RAC are called out to thousands of breakdowns due to blocked DPF filters every month.
So now we have diesel hysteria and the enemy isn't CO2, its now NOx and PM10s. And politicians and the EU are rushing to control the public health implications of the ill-informed decisions of 2001. There's a very real danger that we could see higher fuel duty levels on diesel to discourage its use and millions of well-intentioned car owners who were only following official advice could be disadvantaged financially. The good work that FairFuelUK has done to control transport costs in the UK could now be undone if duty on 50% of the UK's fuel consumption rises. For the haulage industry this could cause a massive rise in costs and cause inflation increases, lower national GDP and reduced consumer spending. The Government needs to be very careful here and not react with the reckless speed it did in 2001.