A UK government report published today has found that it could be possible to achieve almost "complete decarbonisation of road transport" by 2050 in the developed world.

The report finds that even if road use in the UK doubles by 2050, an 80% reduction in total road transport CO2 emissions in the UK is possible (relative to the year 2000). To achieve this substantial cut, progress would need to be made in solving electric vehicle technology challenges and decarbonising and expanding electricity production. Average CO2 emissions per vehicle per kilometre traveled would need to be cut by 90%.

Known as the King Review, the report was commissioned by the prime minister when he was chancellor of the exchequer (finance minister), and is a follow-up to the Stern Review. The King Review looks specifically at the potential role of low carbon cars in reducing CO2 emissions, and is led by Professor Julia King, vice-chancellor of Aston University and former director of advanced engineering at Rolls-Royce plc.

According to King, "by 2030, vehicle emissions per kilometre could be 50% below 2000 levels if substantial progress is made in delivering cleaner fuels, more efficient vehicles and smart consumer choices. Given projected growth in road transport use, this would imply cuts in total UK emissions from car use of approximately 30% by 2030."

The report places a lot of emphasis on consumers selecting the right kind of vehicles. "Choosing the "best in class" vehicle in today's market would reduce emissions by an average of 25%," states the report.

While the report contains a certain optimism, King warns that major barriers include sunk costs in vehicle manufacturing and the problem of scale needed to bring new technologies to market. King finds that technologies that reduce CO2 emissions by 30% could be introduced for an additional cost of GBP1,000 to GBP1,500 per vehicle (about $US2-3,000), if there is significant scale. The payback for customers would be lower fuel bills and the payback time could be as little as 3-5 years, and possibly even less for high mileage drivers.

Other barriers for the automotive industry include uncertainty over future policy directions and the important of vehicle manufacturing to the national economy.

Part two of the review will be published next year and will look at policy recommendations.