Concerns have been raised over the Prime Minister’s apparent weakening of Government commitment to net zero measures.
Rishi Sunak has confirmed that his Government will weaken policy proposals relating to electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing, home heating and building energy efficiency, claiming it was unfair to impose significant extra cost burdens onto stretched household budgets.
He said: “I believe deeply that, when you ask most people about climate change, they want to do the right thing. They’re even prepared to make sacrifices. But it cannot be right for Westminster to impose such significant costs on working people – especially those already struggling to make ends meet.”
He argued that there has been a “lack of meaningful democratic debate about how we get [to net-zero]” and accused previous governments of making green commitments without either properly funding their delivery or communicating what they would entail to the general public.
He said: “The Climate Change Committee (CCC) have rightly said that we won’t reach net-zero simply by wishing it. But that is precisely what previous Governments have done – both Labour and Conservative.
“I’ll have no truck with anyone saying we lack ambition, but 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 – and without any meaningful democratic debate about how we get there.”
The CCC had recently said that the UK is not on track to achieve its legally binding 2050 climate target and believes progress has actually weakened since last year.
In a major speech, the Prime Minister confirmed a five-year delay on the ban on new petrol and diesel car sales which had been set for 2030 under Boris Johnson but will now be amended to 2035 – bringing the UK in line with the EU and many US states.
Sunak said he does not see the role of the Government as forcing individual motorists or businesses with fleets – especially SMEs – to switch to EVs. He believes most vehicles sold in 2030 will be zero-emission anyway and but argued that market forces will bring the cost down without the kind of government intervention promised under the Boris Johnson regime.
Sunak also moved a ban on oil boilers in off-grid homes, initially set for 2026, to 2035. A wider plan to phase out 100% of domestic gas boilers by 2035 has also been weakened to 80%.
Proposals for new energy efficiency regulations on homes from 2025 were scrapped, as were plans to fine landlords for failing to upgrade homes to improve their Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating.
The PM said the Government wanted to incentivise energy efficiency improvements – not force them.
Alan King, Managing Director of Syntegra, said: “While it is not our place to enter political dialogue, what we can say is that the focus on sustainable solutions should remain. It is the right thing to do and businesses, in general, are wholly committed to playing their part in achieving net zero targets. We are certainly intent on working with clients to enhance their sustainability credentials as an effective business model.
“Organisations should appreciate that many efficiency measures can be implemented in a timely and cost effective manner. And in the long term, that expenditure will save them money, so continuing down the route to net zero makes strong business sense.”
The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) says the decision to water down energy and environmental policies indicated the Government was playing a “dangerous game with business confidence”.
David Frise, CEO of the Building Engineering Services Association, said: “It has been clear for some time that political will was wavering and that there never was a coherent plan for meeting net-zero targets.”
He added: “This constant chopping and changing on policy is hugely damaging to business confidence. It makes it much harder to persuade the relevant companies to invest in the necessary technology, processes, and skills.
“Building engineering contractors are justifiably suspicious of any new ‘initiatives’ announced by government because so many have been dumped in the past. This damages their credibility yet further and many firms could delay making changes, believing the government will shift policy at the last minute whenever something becomes politically difficult.
“The building safety act is a particular concern and any change of tack on that would be disastrous for the future of the industry.”
He called for the Government to maintain its plans to force property landlords to meet energy-efficiency upgrade targets and said: “Refurbishment and retrofitting of buildings is an essential underpinning part of net zero that will also cut energy bills for the ‘hard-pressed families’ the prime minister says he wants to support.
“Sunak should also not lose sight of the fact that the push for net zero is good for business as it will create jobs and allow us to export our expertise.
“I still believe we can get to net zero by 2050, but it won’t be because of a series of government announcements. It will be because engineers have worked out how to do it and businesses have invested in the technologies and the talent to make it deliverable.”
Others such as Georgia Whittaker, climate campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “This is a deeply cynical decision from a prime minister who just days ago claimed to be all about fairness. Yet again, it is the poorest who will be hit hardest by Rishi Sunak’s desperate attempt to turn net zero into a culture war that nobody in the country is asking for – the overwhelming majority of voters back government financial support towards the cost of insulating homes.
“The UK has the leakiest buildings in Western Europe and average household energy bills are double what they were in 2020. The government’s own fuel poverty strategy explicitly recognises that energy efficiency reduces fuel poverty, making Sunak’s decision to scrap the task force even more obscene.”
Members of the Professional Bodies Climate Action Charter have issued a joint statement criticising the Government’s revised strategy.
It said: “As supporters of the Professional Bodies Climate Action Charter, we represent hundreds of thousands of professional members globally, across a wide range of sectors, from science and engineering, health, construction and finance. Our members are deeply concerned that policy announcements by the Prime Minister this week call into question the government’s commitment to delivering the UK’s net-zero and adaptation targets. Investment is jeopardised by policy reversals, as is certainty on skills needed for the creation of green jobs in the future workforce.
“The ongoing cost of living crisis and this summer’s extreme heat waves in the US, China and Europe have highlighted the acute risks if the UK Government does not proactively deliver a strategic approach to net zero. If the objectives of the Climate Change Act are not delivered, future crises will surely follow.
“Fully implementing the Net Zero Strategy, which included the end dates of 2030 for the sale of new combustion engine vehicles and 2035 for gas boilers, could create another 440,000 well-paying jobs and unlock £90 billion in private investment by 2030. Professionals need a stable policy framework, guidance and training to align their sectors with net zero and reap the opportunities granted by the global transition. This will be reliant on a wider economic transition to net zero, across a range of sectors, supported by consistent policies, including strategic public investment and clear market signals from a coherent direction of travel.”