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The British government has watered down its new mandate for electric vehicles by allowing carmakers to defer a proportion of their production targets for several years, according to a government consultation announced on Thursday.

The consultation on electric cars is one of a flurry of announcements published on Thursday morning updating the government’s approach to energy security and the transition to net zero. But the plans have already been heavily criticised for not going far enough.

Under the new “zero emission vehicles” mandate manufacturers will have to sell a certain proportion of electric vehicles every year with the threshold rising until 2035.

From 2024 carmakers will have to ensure 22 per cent of their cars and 10 per cent of vans are electric, rising to 52 per cent of cars and 46 per cent of vans by 2028.

But the government has created two big loopholes allowing carmakers to get around the targets.

First, companies will have a certain number of allowances to sell petrol and diesel cars that they will be able to trade with each other.

Second, in another big concession, the government will allow carmakers to offset some shortfalls in meeting the EV targets during the first three years with a higher proportion of EV sales later in the decade.

They would do that by using up their future allowances to produce petrol and diesel cars; this offsetting would be capped and decline each year from 75 per cent of the EV production target in 2024 to 25 per cent in 2026.

Other initiatives announced on Thursday included a plan to crack down on greenwashing in the unregulated market for carbon credits, which companies use to offset their emissions.

Ministers said they would consult this year on the “specific steps and interventions needed” to support the growth of the carbon credit market and “protect against greenwashing”, which involves making something appear more sustainable than it really is.

The government said the measures would enable the UK to become “a global hub” for the trading of the credits, each of which are supposed to represent a tonne of carbon avoided or removed from the atmosphere, and come from projects such as tree-planting schemes.

The government will also consult on plans to create a market system in which airlines that fail to secure a future supply of green aviation fuel are able to use a “buyout mechanism”.

Under existing plans, airlines will have to source at least 10 per cent of their fuel from sustainable aviation fuel by 2030.

The latest buyout mechanism is designed to allow companies to meet the target even when they cannot secure a supply of the sustainable fuel.

“It also effectively sets the maximum price for mandate certificates,” the government said in a consultation into green aviation fuels.

The government also confirmed that investors would be allowed to count nuclear energy as a “green” investment under plans to be consulted on in the autumn.

Meanwhile, shares in UK power company Drax fell as much as 8 per cent in early trading after it was left off a list of eight carbon capture projects chosen by the government to move to the next phase of talks.

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