‘Pathetic’: what scientists and green groups think of UK’s net zero U-turn

<span>Photograph: Jonathan Nicholson/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Jonathan Nicholson/Getty Images

Scientists and environmental groups have expressed anger and dismay at the U-turn on net zero by the prime minister.

Jim Watson, professor of energy policy and director of UCL’s Institute for Sustainable Resources

“Rishi Sunak’s net zero speech is full of contradictions, and will make it harder to meet our medium- and long-term climate change targets. It also risks increasing the costs by delaying the shift away from fossil fuels and reducing the economic benefits to the UK.”

Prof Sir Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London

“Our PM wants to have his cake and eat it when he says that the government wants to keep to the UK climate change targets but to weaken the policies to achieve them. These policies were already too weak according to the June report of its advisers, the Climate Change Committee.”

Al Gore, former US vice-president and climate change activist

Gore told Sky News that Sunak was “doing the wrong thing” by curbing green policies.

He added: “I think it is unfortunate that he would do that. And I think the people of the United Kingdom largely agree that it is the wrong decision.

“But that is for people of the United Kingdom to address. I certainly disagree with him.”

Prof Dave Reay, executive director of Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, University of Edinburgh

“It’s not pragmatic, it’s pathetic. This rolling back on emissions cuts for short-term political gain will undermine the transition to net zero and with it the future opportunities, prosperity and safety of the entire country.”

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Prof Lord Stern of Brentford, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science

“Reports that the government is planning to drop essential climate policies send the wrong signals to businesses looking to invest in the new growth story of the future. It is the opposite of good economics.

“Chopping and changing will raise serious questions with businesses who see a government who cannot be trusted to follow through on policy commitments, be they climate or otherwise.

“This will undermine investment and jeopardise growth … Change will involve all firms and households and government policy should be focused on managing that change and not postponing what is essential.”

Peter Chalkley, director of the energy and climate intelligence unit (ECIU)

Chalkley said that there were questions that the prime minister must answer on net zero. “How does this have any impact on cost of living now or in the coming years?

“The fact is the gas boiler and petrol car phase-out aren’t set to have any impact on those struggling with bills for at least a decade.

“The boiler phase-out would start in 2035 but only for those whose boiler breaks … 80% of drivers buy secondhand, and secondhand petrol cars would be on the market for literally decades to come.

“Delaying this policy will push up the cost of motoring as cheaper secondhand EVs that are much cheaper to run than petrol cars will be less available.

“The one measure that would have brought down bills is the landlord energy efficiency rules. Rented accommodation is some of the worst quality and so most costly to heat, with tenants having no power to insulate themselves.”

Mark Maslin, professor of climatology, University College London

“Global temperatures have risen by 1.2C. We have had the warmest northern hemisphere summer ever recorded. Antarctic sea ice has not expanded during the winter months. Extreme weather events have occurred all around the world including heatwaves, wildfires, storms and floods. In the UK we had seven consecutive days with temperatures over 30C. All of these are set to get worse as El Niño intensifies this winter.

“In the face of all the scientific evidence, according to a leak, Sunak is considering weakening his government’s key green commitments. He is even considering moving the legally binding net zero targets.

“This goes against what the majority of the British people want given their concern about climate change. It also goes against sensible economics which shows that renewable energy is much cheaper and more secure than fossil fuel energy.”

Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK

“The grim reality is that Britain is no longer seen as a serious player in the global race for green growth. Under the Conservative government, Britain has gone from leader to laggard on climate change and further planned U-turns leaked last night will only hasten our waning influence on the world stage.”

Lyndsay Walsh, Oxfam’s climate change policy adviser

“Any further weakening of the government’s climate policies is a complete betrayal of people living in poverty – both in the UK and abroad – who are most vulnerable to climate change. The government needs to put long-term interests ahead of short-term politics and that means a fast and fair move towards renewable energy.”

Nadeem Badshah contributed to this piece