A government-funded energy research body has called for “immediate action” to halt rising sales of SUVs and other large vehicles because of their negative impact on vehicle carbon emissions.

According to the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), which is comprised of researchers base in several UK institutions and funded by UK Research and Innovation, the rapid growth in SUV sales in the past decade has led to a rise in total CO2 emissions from the global car fleet, despite the growth in battery-electric vehicles.

SUVs accounted for 21.2% of total vehicles sold in the UK last year, up from 6.6% in 2009 and 13.5% in 2015. In total, 1.8 million SUVs have been sold in the past four years – which the UKERC suggested was likely down to car financing schemes and the freeze in fuel duty.

The UKERC says that SUVs produce around a quarter more CO2 than a medium-size car due to their extra size and weight. It calculated that, assuming vehicles stay on the road for a decade, the 1.8 million SUVs sold in the past four years will produce around 8.2 million tonnes of CO2.

While sales of full electric vehicles are rising, they are outsold 37 to 1 by SUVs. The UKERC also noted that the bulk of plug-in hybrid models sold in recent years have been SUVs, which it says means that “even the relatively small number of electric vehicles that have been sold in the UK are consuming more energy than they need to”.

Professor Jillian Anable, the UKERC’s co-director, said that “the rapid uptake of unnecessarily large and energy consuming vehicles just in the past few years makes a mockery of UK policy efforts towards the ‘Road to Zero’”.

She added: “The decarbonisation of the passenger car market can no longer rely on a distant target to stop the sales of conventional engines. We must start to phase out the most polluting vehicles immediately.