Rishi Sunak has outlined a series of measures to water down the government’s climate change commitments claiming that politicians had not been “honest with the public” about the cost of net zero.
In a press conference in Downing Street he said that the present approach would “impose unacceptable costs on hard-pressed British families” and risked a public backlash against net zero.
He announced that the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 would be pushed back to 2035.
He also announced changes to the government’s plan to phase out new boilers, suggesting that poorer households would never have to pay to install a new heat pump.
For those households that do make the switch Sunak said that government grants would increase from £5,000 to £7,500. He promised to speed up the building of clean energy infrastructure.
He said that the moves — which included a pledge not to increase taxes on flying or limiting what people could eat — would not affect Britain’s overall 2050 net zero pledge, which he insisted was still achievable.
Sunak said that both Conservative and Labour governments had hidden the costs of net zero from voters. “It cannot be right for Westminster to impose such significant costs on working people . . . without a properly informed national debate,” Sunak said.
He warned that unless this approach was changed politicians risked alienating the public and undermining the aim of net zero itself.
“There’s nothing ambitious about simply asserting a goal for a short-term headline without being honest with the public about the tough choices and sacrifices involved,” he said. “If we continue down this path, we risk losing the consent of the British people and the resulting backlash would not just be against specific policies, but against the wider mission itself.”
He added: “No one in Westminster politics has yet had the courage to look people in the eye and explain what’s really involved. That’s wrong. And it changes now.”
Commenting on the announcement, Andy Mayer, Energy Analyst at the free market think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Sunak’s Net Zero rebalance is a welcome step. Government policies like petrol and diesel car and gas boiler bans, have gone too far in hurting families and businesses for minimal environmental gain. Delaying these measures, ruling out costly new policies like a ‘meat tax,’ and speeding up planning for nationally significant projects are entirely sensible steps.
“Now Sunak must go further by abandoning the legally binding Net Zero target and ending costly subsidies for unproven ‘green’ technology. The solution to climate change is innovation and investment. This can be achieved by introducing carbon pricing, limiting regulatory interference and further removing planning barriers to deploying green technologies.”
Stephen Phipson, Chief Executive of Make UK, took the totally different side, saying: “The announcement that the Government will be watering down its net zero policies is a huge setback for manufacturers who require stability and confidence in order to invest. Many companies will have spent time and money planning on the basis of firm targets and we now run the risk of falling behind our international counterparts as a home for green technologies if we persist in frequently altering policies that impact businesses directly. This will hit SME businesses in the automotive supply chain particularly hard.
“This is a timely reminder that the UK also needs a long-term industrial strategy which encourages innovation in advanced, high value technologies such as net zero and AI to stimulate growth and skilled employment. This announcement sends entirely the wrong signal and suggests if we aren’t looking forward, we are simply going backwards.”
Steve Malkin, CEO and Founder of Planet Mark, added his comment, saying : “The Prime Minister’s net zero announcements are a disappointing setback for businesses that need certainty to unlock long-term productivity. Businesses across the UK, including our over 700 members, have been actively investing in low carbon solutions such as transitioning their fleets in line with the Government’s previous commitments. They have also been taking action to remain competitive within the global market as they respond to international supply chain demands to measure and reduce their emissions.
While this sharp u-turn erodes trust in the stability and reliability of government policy, and risks harming the UK’s competitiveness, Planet Mark will double down on continuing our trajectory of helping businesses transition to net zero in line with science. We are committed to maintaining the UK’s global climate leadership and to achieving a net zero economy and are excited to be working with like-minded organisations to drive impact, even in the face of government indecision.”