Rishi Sunak mulling over watering down net zero commitments – report

Rishi Sunak is reportedly mulling over watering down some of the Government’s net zero pledges, drawing sharp criticism from across the political spectrum and environmental groups.

The BBC reported that the Prime Minister could use a speech in the coming days to announce a major shift in the Tory Party’s approach to green policy.

While he is not expected to ditch the legal commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, Mr Sunak could say that the UK has overperformed on tackling climate change and that other nations need to step up their action, according to the broadcaster.

The BBC says it has seen documents suggesting there could be changes to as many as seven core policies or commitments.

This could include weakening the plan to phase out gas boilers from 2035 and delaying the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars – currently due in 2030 – by five years.

The PA news agency understands that some Tory MPs are considering writing letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister if he goes ahead with the changes.

Mr Sunak has repeatedly deployed the language of pragmatism and proportionality when discussing net zero, but campaigners and activists have charged him with a lack of interest in climate policies.

Tory success in the summer’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, won largely through a campaign against the expansion of the ultra low emission zone (Ulez), has led to some MPs to call for Mr Sunak to water down or abandon net zero pledges.

Former prime minister Liz Truss has been among them, calling for the abandonment of “environmental regulations which are hiking the cost of living”.

While Mr Sunak has repeatedly said he is committed to cutting carbon emissions, the granting of new oil and gas licences and recent moves to curb green policies have attracted criticism.

Ulez sign
The Tories’ campaign against Ulez expansion is widely credited as helping them win the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election (Yui Mok/PA)

Chris Skidmore, a Conservative former energy minister who has become increasingly outspoken on net zero, told PA: “If this is true, the decision will cost the UK jobs, inward investment, and future economic growth that could have been ours by committing to the industries of the future.

“It will potentially destabilise thousands of jobs and see investment go elsewhere. And ultimately the people who will pay the price for this will be householders whose bills will remain higher as a result of inefficient fossil fuels and being dependent on volatile international fossil fuel prices.

“Rishi Sunak still has time to think again and not make the greatest mistake of his premiership, condemning the UK to missing out on what can be the opportunity of the decade to deliver growth, jobs and future prosperity.”

Former Cop26 president Sir Alok Sharma warned that “for any party to resile from this (climate action) agenda will not help economically or electorally”, while Tory former Cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke tweeted that “it is in our environmental, economic, moral and (yes) political interests as @Conservatives to make sure we lead on this issue rather than disown it”.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “This is a total farce. The country cannot go on with a Conservative government in total disarray, stumbling from crisis to crisis.

“Ministers need to urgently provide clarity on all eight of the policies reportedly up for review.”

Liberal Democrat climate and energy spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said: “”What Rishi Sunak should see infront of him is the opportunity to embrace the industries of the future and protect the coming generations from the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

“Instead, he has cowered to the delayers and deniers like the disgraced Liz Truss and adopted wholesale their policies.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “This decision would be economically illiterate, historically inaccurate and environmentally bone-headed. This absurd rollback will mean higher energy bills, colder homes, fewer jobs, more air pollution and more climate chaos.”

Hannah Martin, co-director of Green New Deal Rising, said: “Once again this Government has shown that they are hell-bent on breaking their promises and doing nothing to stop climate chaos. Just weeks after the hottest summer on record Rishi Sunak has decided to ignore science and stoke a culture war.

“Whilst global leaders are meeting to discuss how to tackle the climate crisis, he has stayed home to set fire to some of the only remaining climate policies this Government had left.

“Not only will the UK miss out on the opportunity to create millions of good green jobs and secure our energy future, we will be once again seen as a laggard as we duck out of doing our fair share to tackle the biggest existential crisis we face.”

Jess Ralston, head of energy at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “All of this would leave us more dependent on foreign oil and gas, less energy independent and with investors spooked.

“As the rest of the world is rushing to invest in net zero industries, any further rowing back by the UK would leave our international standing further tarnished.”

Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, said: “Rolling back on key climate commitments as the world is being battered by extreme flooding and wildfires would be morally indefensible.

“It is legally questionable too as the UK has binding greenhouse gas reduction targets that it’s already in danger of missing.”

A Government spokesperson said: “The Government remains completely committed to its net zero commitments, with the UK having cut emissions faster than any other G7 country.

“Our approach will always be pragmatic and ensure costs are not passed onto hard-working families.

“We will not comment on speculation.”