Britain will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel-powered cars from 2040 as part of a plan to get them off the roads altogether 10 years later, UK Environment Minister Michael Gove confirmed this afternoon.

It is part of a plan to clean up air quality amid fears that rising levels of pollutants pose a major risk to public health.

The move follows a similar announcement earlier this month by the French government to take polluting vehicles off the road.

German cities including Stuttgart and Munich have also said they are considering banning some diesel vehicles.

A suggestion that the Irish Government make a commitment that all new cars and vans sold from 2030 be zero emission or zero emission capable was included in the National Mitigation Plan, which was published last week by Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten.

The decision by Britain has been welcomed by the Green Party, which has called on the Government to follow suit and also target the complete phase-out of petrol and diesel engines in Ireland.

"The Electric Vehicle (EV) revolution is on its way," Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said in a statement.

"The UK's decision is a unique opportunity for Ireland. They've already been the European country with the highest growth in the sales of EVs for the last three years, and the commitment to a total phase-out of internal combustion engines by 2040 will ensure an ample supply of the latest EV models, which are going to be produced en masse in a right-hand drive format for the British market."

The British government has been under pressure to take steps to reduce air pollution after losing legal cases brought by campaign groups, and in May set out proposals for a scrappage scheme to get rid of the most polluting vehicles.

Ahead of last month’s UK election, the governing Conservatives pledged to make "almost every car and van" zero-emission by 2050.

"Today we are confirming that that means there should be no new diesel or petrol vehicles by 2040," Gove told BBC Radio.

The step will likely accelerate the decline of diesel cars in Europe's second biggest market, where they are blamed for poor air quality.

The Volkswagen emissions test cheating scandal has added to concerns about diesel.

Mr Gove also said the government would make £200m available to local authorities shortly for schemes to restrict diesel vehicles' access to polluted roads.

He said he favoured road-by-road restrictions for diesel vehicles rather than outright bans from town centres or costly vehicle scrappage schemes, but did not rule them out entirely if they were local authorities' preferred options.

Earlier this month, Volvo became the first major traditional automaker to set a date for phasing out vehicles powered solely by the internal combustion engine by saying all its car models launched after 2019 will be electric or hybrids.

There are currently more than 900 charge stations for electric cars in Ireland, 75 of which can provide an 80% charge to a vehicle in 20-30 minutes, according to the ESB.

The company said that last year the public charging network was used over 140,000 times to re-charge electrically powered vehicles.