New SUVs are ‘reversing climate progress’ by emitting more pollution than old cars

File image: SUVs bought in 2023 emit more carbon pollution than a conventional car bought in 2013, report says  (Getty Images)
File image: SUVs bought in 2023 emit more carbon pollution than a conventional car bought in 2013, report says (Getty Images)

A new SUV purchased in 2023 ends up releasing more harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilometre than a conventional engine car bought in 2013, a study by a climate charity found.

The surge in popularity of Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) is reversing the progress made in reducing carbon pollution from new cars, the study by Possible found.

With the increasing popularity of SUVs in the UK, especially in urban areas, emissions from fossil-fueled cars are on the rise, leading to worsening climate crisis, the report noted.

The research also challenged the assumption that low-income motorists drove more polluting vehicles. It revealed that the wealthiest households were 81 per cent more likely to own super-heavy emitting cars compared to other income groups.

While the rich could afford electric vehicles, they were increasingly choosing high-emission SUVs. Around three-quarters of new SUVs and two-thirds of all large SUVs registered in the UK were in urban addresses, particularly in rich neighbourhoods like Kensington and Chelsea.

The surge in SUV popularity is not accidental. Industry-wide marketing drives have successfully nudged consumers towards these larger, more powerful vehicles, leading to a dominance of SUVs in the new car market, over smaller, more eco-friendly models.

Although EV sales have increased recently, SUVs remain a significant environmental concern and claim over 40 per cent of the market share in the UK.

For every Electric Vehicle (EV) sold in the UK by 2019, 37 new SUVs hit the roads, a report by the UK Energy Research Centre said.

“Thanks to profit-hungry car companies, we are now driving in the wrong direction when it comes to carbon emissions from new fossil-fuelled cars,” Leo Murray, co-director of climate charity Possible, said.

“In this crucial time, when emissions should be falling faster than ever, expensive SUVs are riding roughshod over what little progress we have made on transport emissions in the last decade.”

The rising carbon emissions from SUVs are not just a UK problem but a global one. Last year, sports utility vehicles accounted for nearly half of all cars sold, with particular growth in the US, India and Europe, according to the International Energy Agency, releasing more planet-heating pollution than most countries.

The charity is now urging for a shift in policies to address this issue, by applying taxes for vehicle emissions based on size.

The group is also advocating for carbon emissions-based parking and road user charges specifically targeting the heaviest emitters.

It is also calling for an end to the advertising of the most polluting SUVs and the implementation of policies that make SUV owners financially responsible for the environmental impact of their vehicles.

This approach would make high-emission vehicles, especially SUVs, more expensive to operate and would provide an incentive for consumers to choose greener alternatives.

“Such large and powerful cars bring a host of other problems to our crowded city streets – too big to fit into standard parking spaces and far more likely to kill pedestrians, especially children, in collisions, they also produce more toxic particulates from tyre wear and do far more damage to the road surface than conventional cars,” Mr Murray said.

“But none of these costs to society are covered by the purchase price or running costs of large SUVs, meaning authorities need to bring in new policies to remedy this.”

“Making SUV mega polluters pay more is an effective and equitable method to getting people in cities out of these sociopathic urban tractors and into greener ways of getting around.”

The revenue generated from these charges could be used to support public transportation services, benefiting lower-income households who rely on these services, the report suggests.