The increasing popularity of ultra-heavy SUVs in England means a conventional-engined car bought in 2013 will, on average, have lower carbon emissions than one bought new today, new research has found.
The study by the climate campaign group Possible said there was a strong correlation between income and owning a large SUV, which meant there was a sound argument for “polluter pays” taxes for vehicle emissions based on size.
Data on vehicle ownership in England showed that households in the top 20% income bracket are 81% more likely to own a highly emitting car than vehicle owners in the other 80%.
The top 20% income group drive three times as many miles a year as those in the bottom income quintile.
The study found the carbon impact of the richest people’s driving habits to have damaged the climate more than “those of the poorest”.
Car ownership data in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea found having an SUV was associated with living in a richer area, more so for super-heavy, high-emitting cars such as the Land Rover Defender. Nearly a quarter of the cars in the wealthiest part of the borough fell into this category, against 5% for the more deprived part.
The research comes amid increasing concern about the environmental, health and safety impact of the increasing popularity of SUVs, often very large four-wheel drive vehicles that can routinely weigh more than two tonnes.
While the definition of an SUV can vary, the proportion of cars sold in the UK that come under the banner has risen in recent years from about a fifth to almost a third.
While they are billed as vehicles that cover rough ground or tow heavy loads, previous research has shown that three-quarters of SUVs bought new in the UK are registered to people living in urban areas.
The effect of rising sales of SUVs, and the fact they tend to be notably heavier than the traditional models previously bought, means the average conventional-engined car bought in 2023 has higher carbon emissions than its 2013 equivalent, the study calculated.
The report called for a distinction between drivers being charged based on greenhouse gas emissions rather than for emissions with direct public health effects, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx).
Recent debate over London’s expanded ultra-low emission zone has focused on concerns that cars that emit more NOx are almost always older, and disproportionately used by less wealthy people.
In contrast, the report argued, high greenhouse emissions have often been a product of richer people buying huge SUVs – at a price that showed they could afford an electric car.
The authors said there was also a social justice argument for carbon-emissions based parking and road user charging.
Lambeth, in south London, charges owners of the heaviest, most high-emission vehicles, more than four times as much for an annual parking permit than for the smallest cars. A similar scheme in Kensington and Chelsea has a differential of up to 10 times.
Other councils should follow, Possible said: “The Chelsea tractor has launched an assault on the future, and if we don’t fight back fast, we will all find ourselves under its wheels.”
SUVs are even more prevalent in some other countries, accounting for about half of all sales in the US. This year, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said that, globally, SUVs produced emissions equivalent to the combined national totals of the UK and Germany.
In the US, there has been a separate focus on the safety impact on pedestrians and cyclists from SUVs, particularly ultra-large “trucks”.
After decades of decline, US pedestrian deaths have begun rising again, and are now at 7,500 a year, the highest level since 1981.
Source : The Guardian