Scotland leads the way in the not-so-eco-friendly revolution

Environmentally-friendly strategies are a key feature of the SNP’s new Programme for Scotland which was announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this week.

New petrol and diesel cars are to be phased out by 2032 – eight years ahead of the UK government’s target – and Low Emission Zones are to be introduced to Scotland’s cities, with the first one being implemented next year.

It all sounds wonderfully green and wholesome. But behind the surface gloss there’s a much murkier picture, with increasing tax burdens looking likely to fall on small businesses and hardworking commuters while big business is set to cream off fat profits.

Southern Electric BT59VTK
Electric vehicles are not quite as environmentally friendly as we’d like to think they are. Photo: Graham Richardson


Electric vehicles (and I would genuinely love to know if there are any remotely affordable alternatives to vehicles that run on either petrol, diesel or electricity) have been around for decades, but until recently they were almost impossible for ordinary motorists to buy – and to charge or recharge with electricity.

Most electric vehicles use lithium ion battery packs, which should last for 10 years or 150,000 miles. Replacement batteries could set you back around 40% of the entire cost of the vehicle.

Not surprisingly, the global lithium-ion market is expected to be worth more than $74bn by 2024.

And just in case you thought electric vehicles were more environmentally friendly than oil or diesel-powered ones, the batteries required to run them are made from scarce minerals like cobalt, graphite and lithium carbonate which have to be dug out of the ground.

Mining in Kailo
Child labour is often employed to mine cobalt, used in the production of lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars and mobile phones. Photo: Julien Harneis 

The mining of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo involves the widespread use of child labour. Meanwhile, global mining interests are set to make enormous profits from these low-emission measures.

In addition, there is the problem of waste. Currently just 5% of lithium ion batteries are recycled in the EU.

And what about all the electricity that will be needed to run all these vehicles as petrol and diesel ones are phased out? Where’s that going to come from? Nuclear power stations? More wind farms?

I am certainly not against the idea of electric vehicles. I’m all for trying to find less polluting means of transport. It’s the way this measure is being steamrollered in, using the sledgehammers of taxation and government regulation that concerns me.

The governmental pride in setting ever closer deadlines, eager to win environmental Brownie points, glosses over the much less eco-friendly facts.

Has the Scottish government really thought through these measures, or is this yet another pseudo-environmentally friendly money-spinner for big business, with more taxation for the rest of us thrown in as a bonus?



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