New figures released today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that carbon tailpipe emissions have risen for the first time since 1997, with new cars averaging 121.04g per km, up 0.8% on 2016.

Last year, UK new car CO2 emissions fell for the 19th consecutive year and this is the first year the figure has risen since records began.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said:“Industry has spent billions of pounds worth of investment in advanced engine, fuel and battery technologies to help drive down CO2 emissions. Customers reap the benefits of this investment in much improved fuel economy and hence lower bills compared with older models.

“Diesel cars, due to their greater fuel efficiency, typically emit on average 20% less CO2 than the equivalent performance of a petrol-engined vehicle. It’s disappointing, therefore, to see these advances undermined by the backlash against cleaner, low emission diesels, with the recent drop in sales the prime cause of this increase in CO2 emissions.

“New technologies, including the latest low emission diesels, are vital if the country and the industry are to meet their climate change targets. For the industry, hitting the 2020/2021 goals will be extremely challenging and government must create the right policies and incentives to encourage all low emission vehicles irrespective of fuel type, whether that means battery vehicles, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, hydrogen or petrol and diesel models. Fleet renewal is the fastest way to lower our carbon emissions and improve air quality and consumers should buy the right car for their driving needs.”

The decline in diesel sales was highlighted as the SMMT reported that annual new car sales fell for the first time in six years.

The UK new car market declined in 2017 recorded total sales of 2,540,617 units, a fall of 5.7%, with plummeting diesel car sales more than offsetting gains in petrol and alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs).

Sales of petrol cars rose by 2.7% to 1,354,917 in 2017 and AFV sales were up 34.8% to 119,821, but diesel sales were down 17.1% to 1,065,879.

The market share for petrol cars increased from 49% in 2016 to 53.3%, and AFVs were up from 3.3% to 4.7%, while diesel declined from 47.7% to 42%.

Hawes said: “The decline in the new car market is concerning but it’s important to remember demand remains at historically high levels. More than 2.5 million people drove away in a new car last year, benefitting from the latest, safest, cleanest and most fuel efficient technology.

“Falling business and consumer confidence is undoubtedly taking a toll, however, and confusing anti-diesel messages have caused many to hesitate before buying a new low emission diesel car. Keeping older vehicles on the road will not only mean higher running costs but will hold back progress towards our environmental goals. Consumers should be encouraged to buy the right car for their lifestyle and driving needs irrespective of fuel type – whether that be petrol, electric, hybrid or diesel as it could save them money.”