Clean Maritime Plan: Are diesel’s days numbered?

Diesel's days could be numbered (photo: peplow/Getty Images)

Diesel's days could be numbered (photo: peplow/Getty Images) - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The diesel engine could be on the way out for canal boaters if the Government carries its recently launched plan through to its conclusion

The diesel engine could be on the way out (at least in its conventional non-hybrid form) if the Government carries its recently launched Clean Maritime Plan through to its conclusion.

Part of the Clean Air Strategy, which aims to cut air pollution across all sectors to make the UK "net zero" on greenhouse gases by 2050, the Plan sets out how the Government hopes to achieve 'zero emissions shipping'. But despite this wording, it doesn't just affect seagoing craft: the plan also covers inland shipping and recreational boats, and a Call for Evidence has been issued specifically for "domestic vessels and inland waterways".

This states clearly that "the expectation that the maritime sector will transition away from fossil fuels extends to all parts of the sector, including those vessels on inland waterways". And a Government announcement accompanying the launch states that "all new vessels for UK waters ordered from 2025 should be designed with zero-emission capable technologies" - which while it doesn't represent an outright ban on new diesels just yet, does at least suggest a move to hybrid or similar set-ups.

For now, the Call for Evidence is just that: a request for individuals, groups and businesses to provide evidence of the current situation: the number, size, age, engine size and fuel type of craft; the operation of any existing regulatory framework; the development of new green technologies (and any barriers to this); longer term trends in the sector; and funding already available for innovation.

Responses must be submitted by 11 January 2020. The Canal & River Trust has already commented that it has begun work in London to "assess how emissions can reasonably and practically be reduced", but that "our inland waterways already make a significant contribution to helping to reduce air pollution in our towns and cities by providing safe, clean and green opportunities for off-road travel whether walking, cycling or by boat," and that emissions from canal craft are "a very small proportion of total transport emissions" - although "we recognise that every sector needs to do its bit to reduce emissions overall".

... meanwhile, 'red' is set to go

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Of more immediate impact for most boaters is the implementation of last year's European court ruling outlawing the UK's method of charging duty on leisure boats, where boaters can use 'red' fuel with a lower duty rate (currently 11.14p per litre), but must declare and pay the higher road fuel duty (57.95p per litre) on the percentage that they use for propulsion.

The UK Government was ordered to come up with a plan to fall in line with the judgment, and has now launched a consultation on the impact of forcing boaters to use white (road) diesel, also known as DERV, for propulsion. This will mean either installing separate tanks for heating and other uses, or paying the extra cost of using white fuel for everything. It affects all craft except largely static residential boats on permanent moorings and commercial craft - and also has implications for boatyards and other suppliers who would need a second set of tanks and pumps. And it will apply as long as the UK is in the EU or bound by the European Fuel Marker Directive.

The consultation asks boaters how much fuel they buy and where, whether it would be practicable and affordable for them to fit a separate tank, and whether they would be able to source the correct fuel(s). And it asks suppliers how much of which type they supply now, and whether they would be likely to sell both types after the change or just one. The consultation closes on 9 September, and the Government will use the responses to decide what if any changeover period will be needed to implement the European judgment.