Last night, the prime minister confirmed he will make a speech this week to “set out an important long-term decision”, following reports he is set to row back on green targets.
While the details have not yet been revealed, the BBC reports that Sunak will weaken the plan to phase out gas boilers from 2035 and delay the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars – currently due in 2030 – by five years.
Sunak may also push back new energy efficiency rules for landlords or homeowners, while also ruling out new taxes to discourage flying and new policies to encourage carpooling.
The issue marks out a stark dividing line with Labour before the next general election – but puts Sunak on a collision course with net zero supporters across the political spectrum.
Read more: Rishi Sunak set to announce major backtrack on UK's climate commitments (The National)
Here, Yahoo News UK rounds up the reaction to Sunak’s change of stance…
Why is he doing it?
Sunak has seen a collapse in support for both his party and in his personal ratings and he may be seeking to appeal to traditional Tory voters who are against net zero policies.
The issue marks out a stark dividing line with Labour ahead of the next general election and hitting back against environmental policies has already proved fruitful for the Tories after their surprise victory in the Uxbridge by-election – which was put down to their campaign against the Ulez scheme roll-out across the whole of London.
However, Sunak may also simply have decided that a quick transition to net zero will be economically harmful to the UK.
He said politicians “of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade-offs” and accused previous Tory governments of taking “the easy way out, saying we can have it all”.
In July, Sunak also said he did not want to heap “hassle” or extra costs from net zero policies on to families during the cost of living crisis, insisting that he was “standing up for the British people”.
Read more: Rishi Sunak says he does not want to ‘hassle’ families with net zero targets (PA Media)
Why are people angry?
While Sunak insisted the government is not “losing our ambition or abandoning our commitments”, campaigners and politicians have accused him of U-turning on policies that were put in place by previous Conservative governments.
While the prime minister insisted the government is not “losing our ambition or abandoning our commitments”, campaigners are angry that the roll-back of any measures would make the net zero ambition less achievable.
Chris Skidmore, a Conservative former energy minister who has become increasingly outspoken on net zero, said the shift would be “the greatest mistake of [Sunak’s] premiership”, and told BBC’s Newsnight on Tuesday that it “runs against the commitment we've made in our general election manifesto in 2019”.
He said the 2050 targets would not be met if the targets for 2030 – like banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars – were tweaked.
Read more: Sunak accused of dropping UK’s position as climate leader for political gain (PA Media)
'Moment of shame'
Campaigners and politicians on all sides of the political spectrum have been highly critical of Sunak’s reported backtrack.
Former Cop26 president Sir Alok Sharma warned that “for any party to resile from this (climate action) agenda will not help economically or electorally”. Tory peer Zac Goldsmith, who quit as environment minister in June with a scathing attack on Sunak’s environmental “apathy”, accused the prime minister of “dismantling” the UK’s credibility on climate issues and said it was “a moment of shame”.
The delay in the ban on new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be “incredibly confusing” to drivers looking to make the switch to electric vehicles, according to Mike Hawes, chief executive of industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas described the decision as “economically illiterate, historically inaccurate and environmentally bone-headed”.
Hannah Martin, co-director of the Green New Deal Rising campaign group, said the government were “breaking their promises” and accused Sunak of “ignoring the science” to “stoke a culture war”.
Liberal Democrat climate and energy spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said Sunak has “cowered to the delayers and deniers”, while Labour’s shadow energy secretary Ed Miliband described the U-turn as “a complete farce”.
Read more: Tory backlash as Sunak suggests he will delay UK's switch to electric cars by five years (Sky News)
Is there support for Sunak?
Defending Sunak, home secretary Suella Braverman focused on the economic costs of transitioning to net zero, telling Sky News: “We’re not going to save the planet by bankrupting the British people.”
Conservative MP Dame Andrea Jenkyns told ITV News that the Ukraine war and COVID meant we “cannot ask people on top of that to change the heating system, to change the cars”.
Craig Mackinlay, leader of the Tory Net Zero Scrutiny Group, which has been sceptical of the government’s policies, said the expected announcements by Sunak were “sensible and pragmatic”.
Andrew Montford, director of campaign group Net Zero Watch, told Yahoo News UK that it was “welcome” that Sunak has “admitted that the public have been misled over the costs of net zero”.
However, he warned that the “very modest” changes are subject to judicial review.
Tory MP for Lincoln Karl McCartney also welcomed the reported proposals, arguing that the UK was following in France and Germany’s footsteps by delaying the 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars.
Read more: Suella Braverman defends Rishi Sunak's plans to water down green policies (HuffPost)
What is net zero?
Net zero is the policy of not adding anything to the total amount of greenhouse gases – including carbon dioxide and methane – in the atmosphere.
Carbon dioxide is released when fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – are burned in homes or factories, or to power transport.
Farming and landfill result in an increase in methane emissions.
The result of these emissions is an increase in global temperatures due to the sun’s energy being trapped.
The 2015 Paris climate agreement saw 197 countries – including the UK – committing to trying to limit global temperate rises by 1.5C by 2100.
Scientists have argued that this is only achievable if net zero CO2 emissions are reached by 2050 – and this forms part of the UK’s international commitments.
As well as government schemes to reduce emissions, campaigners have argued that the public will also need to make changes – including taking fewer flights, eating less red meat and switching to electric vehicles.
Read more: Moving to net zero will cost £6.8 trillion a year, report warns (Yahoo News)
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Watch: Sunak accused of dropping UK’s position as climate leader for political gain