The Prime Minister has been accused of abandoning the UK’s position as a climate leader for short-term political gain as he appears set to dilute environmental policies designed to make the country a net-zero economy.
The BBC reported that Rishi Sunak will announce a delay to the phasing out of new petrol and diesel cars, weaken the phasing out of gas boilers by 2035, and abandon plans to introduce energy-efficient regulations on homes.
He is also expected to delay a ban on off-grid oil boilers while saying there will be no extra taxes on flying or policies to encourage diet change or carpooling.
— Chris Skidmore (@CSkidmoreUK) September 19, 2023
Chris Skidmore, the Conservatives’ net zero champion, said: “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.”
The Prime Minister was said to be “on the wrong side of history” by Luke Murphy, of the Institute for Public Policy Research, who said the move will be bad for consumers, the environment, the economy and for the Conservatives’ electoral prospects.
Ben Goldsmith, chairman of the Conservative Environment Network, echoed those words, adding: “People of all political persuasions want immediate action. They want nature restored and the climate problem solved.
“They know that the solutions are cleaner, better and increasingly cheaper than the polluting industries which stand to benefit from continued inaction.”
Mr Sunak is expected to set out his plans in a speech later this week, promising a “proportionate” approach to net zero.
He said he wants to “put the long-term interests of our country before the short-term political needs of the moment”, though his critics accuse him of doing exactly that with the proposed changes.
The BBC reported that he will use his speech to praise the UK as a climate leader while saying other countries need to pull their weight.
The leak came as nations gather in New York at the UN General Assembly, where climate action has been a key topic of discussion.
UN climate chief Simon Stiell said during an address on Tuesday evening: “No G7 country has yet over-delivered on climate.
“On the contrary, there is a lot more action needed, specifically from them. Is turning away from climate action in 2023 really leadership?”
Tom Rivett-Carnac, who was previously chief political strategist for the UN Framework on Climate Change, of which Mr Stiell is head, said: “The UK claims to be a global leader for the 21st century.
“Watering down climate commitments and disincentivising the industries of tomorrow for cynical short-term political reasons is not leadership, it is cowardice.”
The day before the UN General Assembly where climate is the critical topic not only is the UK PM not attending but now we see clear reneging on our Net Zero commitments. In the face of a deepening crisis what does this say to the world?
— Sir David King (@Sir_David_King) September 19, 2023
Mr Sunak’s change of direction is likely to frustrate his own advisers on the Climate Change Committee (CCC), who have repeatedly warned the Government it is drifting off track from its net zero path and making it more difficult to achieve by not developing electric vehicles (EVs) fast enough.
Nigel Topping, a member of the CCC who was a climate champion at Cop26 in Glasgow, said: “Constancy of policy purpose is the key to attracting investment in the energy transition and hence the key to competitiveness and jobs.
“Strong policy leadership has helped the UK build an impressive renewables capacity and recently contributed to major investments in battery and EV manufacturing.
“Any dilution of UK climate policy at this crucial time will send all the wrong signals to industry and push investment and jobs overseas into the the welcoming arms of our competitors.”
In the hours following the leak, climate think tank E3G amassed 400 signatures from NGOs and businesses for an open letter urging the Prime Minister not to water down net zero policies.
The letter told Mr Sunak that weakening climate policies would be “a historic mistake of your premiership”, leaving a lasting impact on the UK economy and the climate.
Among the signatories were Chris Norbury, chief executive of energy company E.ON, Peter Jelkeby, chief executive of IKEA UK and Ireland, and National Trust director-general Hilary McGrady.
Ed Matthew, E3G’s campaigns director, said: “This would be the greatest act of economic self-harm since Liz Truss’s mini-budget.
“It is shaking investor confidence and putting jobs at risk. It also threatens to keep households hooked on expensive oil and gas for longer.
“The large number of signatories to this letter, gathered in only hours, reflects the deep commitment from all parts of society to the net zero transition.
“Policies to build a prosperous green future are a mission that unites us all and should not be used by politicians to divide us. That is shameful.”