The Government will not follow the UK and France's lead in banning new petrol and diesel cars from 2040, opting instead to incentivise the switch to electric vehicles, Transport Minister Simon Bridges says.

The initiative was launched in the UK yesterday after High Court judges ruled the Government was breaking the law by allowing concentrations of nitrogen dioxide to build up in urban areas.

From 2040, drivers will be able to buy electric vehicles only - ending the near 150-year reign of the internal combustion engine.

From around 2020, town halls will also be allowed to levy extra charges on diesel drivers using the UK's 81 most polluted routes if air quality fails to improve. Diesels might even be banned at peak times.

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A similar scheme was introduced in France earlier this month as the country seeks to meet its targets under the Paris climate accord.

The New Zealand Government has opted for a different tack, with Bridges saying in a statement it did not believe in measures like banning combustion cars, but instead opted for "encouraging growth [in the number of electric vehicles] using a range of incentives to grow demand".

"The Government has an ambitious electric vehicle programme with the aim to double the size of the electric vehicle fleet in New Zealand every year to reach 64,000 electric vehicles by 2021," the minister said.

"The Government has a number of initiatives to help encourage people to make the switch, one being the exemption of electric vehicle owners paying road user charges, saving them around $600 a year."

Bridges added that electric vehicles were the future and a move from petrol and diesel to low-emission transport was "a natural evolution".

"It's our aim to encourage that switch sooner, rather than later."

In the UK, nitrogen dioxide levels emitted by diesel cars are reported to have been above legal limits in almost 90 per cent of urban areas in since 2010.

The toxic fumes are estimated to cause 23,500 early deaths a year and the problem was declared a public health emergency by a cross-party committee last year.

Additional reporting: Daily Mail