The UK has begun setting out its ambitions for the transition to net zero, with big changes on the horizon for cars and vans. Here’s what you need to know.
With the United Nations COP26 climate conference only days away, the government has released its clearest vision yet of the steps towards the UK becoming a net zero carbon economy by 2050 . The Net Zero Carbon Strategy includes new environmental targets for cars and vans – which alone contributed 19% of the country’s CO2 emissions in 2019  – with financial support and tough sales targets to encourage uptake.
Mandatory electric vehicle targets
Deadlines for phasing out new combustion engine sales are already in place. All new cars and vans will have to offer “significant zero emission capability” by 2030 and produce zero tailpipe emissions from 2035 . The strategy builds on those plans. From 2024, manufacturers will have annual targets requiring a set percentage of new car and van registrations to be zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs).
A ZEV mandate was among recent proposals by the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) and UK Electric Fleets Consortium, both of which LeasePlan is a member, as a route to encouraging progressive electrification without a last-minute rush for vehicles . Details will be finalised during a consultation process in 2022, alongside UK-specific CO2 targets for manufacturers, and a definition of “significant zero-emission capability” will be announced before the end of this year.
Future environmental regulations
Previous strategy announcements suggest future environmental regulations will be “at least as ambitious” as those introduced under European Union membership . The EU has proposed the same 2035 deadline for all new cars and vans to become zero-emission  and mandatory CO2 and sales targets are set for 2025 onwards with severe penalties for non-compliance . However, those targets allow for plug-in hybrids with CO2 emissions up to 50g/km and are not limited to zero-emission models.
UK Government fleet
In the near future, the UK government says it will lead by example. A quarter of its light-duty vehicle fleet will be ultra-low emission (under 50g/km CO2) by 2022, and all of its cars and vans will be zero-emission by 2027.
Reformed grant funding for electric vehicles
The strategy confirms £620m in funding for vehicle grants and to support additional charging infrastructure roll-out, in addition to the £1.3bn announced earlier this year . Details about how this will be used will be announced shortly, but the wording implies available funding will be tailored towards priority areas which have been more difficult to electrify.
Targeted vehicle grants
New “targeted” vehicle grants will encourage “even more green vans” in the UK, the population of which has doubled since 1994 . Investments will also help to grow on local networks and provide on-street chargepoints for residential areas, with a detailed EV infrastructure strategy due later this year. Incentives for electric cars and home charging equipment have been wound back steadily in recent years as the market has matured, enabling the funding to be provided elsewhere.
One goal, several routes
The transition to electric vehicles isn’t happening in isolation. It’s supported by investment in expanded rail and bus services based on electric and alternative-fuel vehicles, and improved walking and cycling routes to reduce dependence on the car.
By 2030, the government is aiming for half of urban journeys to be on foot or bike, and for vehicle occupancy to increase by 10%, removing even more traffic from the roads.
 HM Government. (2021) Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener. [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachmentdata/file/1026655/net-zero-strategy.pdf [Accessed 19 Oct. 2021]
 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. (2021) Final UK greenhouse gas emissions national statistics 1990-2019. [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/972606/final-greenhouse-gas-emissions-tables-2019.xlsx [Accessed 19 Oct. 2021].
 Department for Transport (2020). Government takes historic step towards net-zero with end of sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. [online] GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-takes-historic-step-towards-net-zero-with-end-of-sale-of-new-petrol-and-diesel-cars-by-2030 [Accessed 19 Oct. 2021].
 The Climate Group. (2021). UK Electric Fleets Coalition – 2021 Policy Paper. [online] Available at: https://www.theclimategroup.org/uk-electric-fleets-coalition-2021 [Accessed 19 Oct. 2021].
 HM Government (2018) The Road to Zero Next steps towards cleaner road transport and delivering our Industrial Strategy. [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/739460/road-to-zero.pdf [Accessed 19 Oct. 2021].
 European Commission. (2021) Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL amending Regulation (EU) 2019/631 as regards strengthening the CO2 emission performance standards for new passenger cars and new light commercial vehicles in line with the Union’s increased climate ambition. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/amendment-regulation-co2-emission-standards-cars-vans-with-annexes_en.pdf [Accessed 19 Oct. 2021].
 European Commission. (n.d.). CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/eu-action/transport-emissions/road-transport-reducing-co2-emissions-vehicles/co2-emission_en [Accessed 19 Oct. 2021].
 Department for Transport (2021). Government powers up electric vehicle revolution with £20 million chargepoints boost. [online] GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-powers-up-electric-vehicle-revolution-with-20-million-chargepoints-boost [Accessed 19 Oct. 2021].
 Department for Transport. (2021). VEH0101: Licensed vehicles by body type (quarterly): Great Britain and United Kingdom [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1021006/veh0101.ods [Accessed 19 Oct. 2021].