The move to diesel, an area in which European car manufacturers have always had an advantage over their America and Japanese rivals, was strongly encouraged by policy makers through tax incentives and environmental regulations at both the national and the European level. There was a perception that, although diesel was known to have a bigger impact on air quality than petrol, it produced fewer carbon emissions and a switch to diesel would help slow climate change.
Since then three things have fundamentally changed. Advances in hybrid and electronic cars have produced a form of mass transport which avoids a trade-off between climate change and air quality, the emissions scandal has shown that this trade off may have always been worse than assumed, and there has been a growing recognition that increased NOX levels from diesel vehicles are creating what has been called a public health emergency. In the UK alone, air pollution is contributing to 40,000 to 52,000 premature deaths annually.
This is the background to a new policy report produced for Green Budget Europe (GBE), the campaigning organisation fighting to shift taxation away from labour and on to pollution both in Britain and in Europe. It was launched at a roundtable assembled by Prospect in collaboration with GBE.