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Britain Is Getting Rid of the Internal-Combustion Engine

U.K. drivers won’t be able to buy new cars and vans that run on gas or diesel starting in 2040.

The strangely pleasant whiff of gas, the burble of the engine, the acrid stench of exhaust fumes. We all know that, sooner or later, these things will become little more than nostalgia as cars go all-electric. And in the U.K., at least, we now have a date for when that will really start to hit home: 2040.

That’s the year in which the nation’s government will outlaw the sale of new cars and vans that run on gas or diesel. As the BBC reports, the initiative is the result of a court order requiring the government to introduce policies to tackle illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide. Those particles are among the emissions that contribute to declining air quality around the globe, which is estimated to kill over three million people each year.

The ban is part of a wider £3 billion ($3.9 billion) effort to improve air quality in the nation. A small £255 million ($330 million) slice of that will be given to local authorities to help them reduce emissions in their own areas, which may include the creation of tolls for heavily polluting vehicles.

Environmentalists say that the measures don’t go far enough. The government has decided not to implement an early proposal that would have banned many diesel cars from city centers around the nation. It also chose not to introduce a scheme that would have paid drivers of heavily polluting cars to scrap their existing vehicles and upgrade to cleaner models.

The news echoes a recent push in many European capitals to ban diesel cars from city streets. Last year, Paris, Madrid, and Athens all committed to a ban of cars and vans that run on diesel by 2025. Then in April, London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced that steep levies would hit the most polluting diesel vehicles in the city as soon as 2018.

Automakers appear to be taking note. Last month, Volvo announced that from 2019, every car it sells will have an electric motor—though the majority of its vehicles will still be hybrids that burn at least some gas. Every automaker worth its salt appears to be preparing all-electric models to go on sale in the coming years. And let’s not forget the fact that Tesla’s hotly anticipated mass-market car, the Model 3, is finally rolling off the production line.

A recent analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggested that electric vehicles could account for as many as half of all new cars sold by 2040. And today’s news suggests that may indeed come true in the U.K. But plenty needs to be done before it actually happens—including the roll-out of extensive charging infrastructure, increased energy production to meet demand, and advances in car technology such as batteries and motors to make electric vehicles truly practical. Nobody said turning our back on an old friend would be easy.

(Read more: BBC, The Independent, “By 2040, More Than Half of All New Cars Could Be Electric,” “Europe Is Dead Serious About Killing Off Diesel Cars,” “Volvo Is Killing Off Internal Combustion. Kind of.”)

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