By Nina Chestney | 1 March 2015
(Reuters) – The British government rejected calls on Sunday to raise taxes on diesel vehicles to reduce air pollution but said it will consider a national network of low-emission zones.
Britain has consistently failed to meet European Union limits on nitrogen dioxide, which is produced by diesel engines and is harmful to respiratory systems, as well as another pollutant, known as diesel particular matter.
In December, the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee published a report on air quality in which it called for a less favourable tax regime for diesel vehicles to discourage the emission of pollutants.
It also urged the government to introduce without delay a national framework for low emission zones and a certification scheme for vehicles that meet particular air quality standards.
In its response, published on Sunday, the government said it had announced in 2013 that there were no plans to change vehicle excise duty and fuel duty has been frozen for the remainder of the parliamentary term, which ends this year.
It said low emission zones, which would restrict or charge diesel vehicles for entry, could be included as part of its air quality plans which are due to be submitted to the European Commission at the end of 2015.
London Mayor Boris Johnson has already announced plans to create such a zone in central London by 2020.
“This was an opportunity for the government to pledge decisive action to cut air pollution, thought to be killing nearly as many people in the UK as smoking,” said committee chairwoman Joan Walley, a member of the opposition Labour party.
“We have been warning that urgent action is needed for the last five years and while this government has accepted that there is a problem it has repeatedly failed to take the tough decisions necessary to sort it out,” she said in a statement.
The British Supreme Court is due to make a final ruling on making the government to comply with EU air quality rules this year. Separately, European courts are expected to rule next year on Britain’s constant breaches of EU nitrogen dioxide limits.
Diesel was once considered more environmentally-friendly than petrol because it produces less carbon dioxide, but recent surveys have suggested that it is more harmful for the health because of the pollutants emitted by diesel engines.
(Editing by Crispian Balmer)