Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to delay some of the government’s green policies to reach net zero in a “more proportionate way”.
Sunak confirmed he was reassessing his party’s environmental commitments after the BBC reported late on Tuesday that the government was looking at delaying the deadlines for six important targets meant to support the UK’s green transition.
Some of the reported measures include pushing back the ban on the sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035; phasing out 80 per cent of new gas boilers, rather than all of them, by 2035; delaying the ban on off-grid oil boilers to 2035; pledging to not introduce new home energy efficiency regulations for landlords or homeowners; and ruling out taxes to discourage flying.
“For too many years politicians in governments of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade-offs. Instead, they have taken the easy way out, saying we can have it all,” he said in a statement. “This realism doesn’t mean losing our ambition or abandoning our commitments.”
He stressed that the government was committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 but in a “better, more proportionate way”.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has defended Sunak’s approach as “pragmatic”. She told Times Radio on Wednesday morning: “We’re not going to save the planet by bankrupting the British people.”
However, reports have drawn significant criticism from political opponents, environmental groups and large sectors of the UK industry.
The change of approach in regard to climate policy has also surprised many supporters of the Conservative party – the same party that introduced the original climate targets as a central part of then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans for a “green revolution”.
The policy U-turn could have been taken in light of the victory of the Conservative Party at the latest by-election in London Uxbridge, in which Labour’s decision to extend the ultra-low emissions zone faced opposition from voters.
Labour has also criticised the government’s position and told BBC sources it would reintroduce the climate targets if it wins the next general election. “This is a total farce,” a spokesperson said. “The country cannot go on with a Conservative government in total disarray, stumbling from crisis to crisis.”
Caroline Lucas, a Green Party MP, said the policy changes would be “economically illiterate, historically inaccurate and environmentally bone-headed”.
Greenpeace UK policy director Doug Parr said Sunak was “taking the public for fools”, stressing that the changes would “ensure we stay at the mercy of volatile fossil fuels and exploitative energy companies”.
Automakers also expressed frustration at the government’s change of plan.
“We’re questioning what is the strategy here because we need to shift the mobility of road transport away from fossil fuels towards sustainable transport,” said Mike Hawes, chief executive of industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).