Environment

Fury as Rishi Sunak makes screeching U-turn on UK’s climate policies: ‘We need an election’

Senior Tory peer Zac Goldsmith has called for a general election as Rishi Sunak plans to U-turn on UK's commitment to net zero

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (centre) and Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack (centre right), during a visit to Shell St Fergus Gas Plant in Peterhead, for the announcement of a carbon capture project and new oil and gas exploration licenses. Image: Euan Duff/ WPA Pool/Getty Images

Rishi Sunak has reversed several of his government’s climate change commitments and net zero plans policies in a screeching U-turn that’s sparked backlash from all sides.

The unelected prime minister revealed a major policy shift during a speech at Downing Street including pushing back the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by five years, from 2030 to 2035, and delaying the phase-out of gas boilers.

Sunak was set to deliver his speech by the end of the week but it was brought forward to Wednesday afternoon (20 September) as a result of leaks of his plans to the BBC late on Tuesday evening (19 September).

In yet another Tory U-turn, the prime minister claimed that the UK has over-delivered in its bid to reach net zero, and challenged other countries need to do more.

Other environmental measures on the outs include energy efficiency regulations for landlords, efforts to encourage carpooling, new recycling schemes and taxes to discourage flying.

Despite this, the prime minister maintainerd that the Tory government remains committed to meeting net zero carbon emissions by 2050, just in a “more proportionate way”. 

Home secretary Suella Braverman has, unexpectedly, come out to back the move from the prime minister, stating that the 2050 net zero target can only be met if British people can go about their lives as ordinary.

“We need to put economic growth first. We need to put household costs and budgets first. We need to put the cost of living first,” Braverman said

“We’re not going to save the planet by bankrupting the British people.”

But others remain less convinced. Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network – a forum of people with conservative values who support net zero – told The Big Issue that these policy reversals have the potential to undermine economic certainty in the UK. 

“The government put forward their net zero strategy just three years ago, this laid out targets that businesses have been preparing for, training up new staff, creating new installers”, he said. 

“If the government then changes these targets, businesses are being put out. We’ve already seen today that businesses are coming forward and saying they need greater certainty.”

In the wake of Sunak’s plans being leaked, the AA said that car manufacturers need “more certainty” so that they can keep planning for the future. And car manufacturer Ford said that the company needs “ambition, commitment and consistency” from the government, adding that the proposed relaxation of policies would undermine all three. 

Hall claims that it is currently hard to tell what the exact impact of these policy changes could have on emissions, but hopes that the government would be compensating for any increases with alternative measures to “protect future generations”.

Yet, in June, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) revealed that the Tory government was already set to struggle to meet its 2050 net zero targets. In its report, the CCC found that the announcements on new fossil fuel projects, coupled with current strategies, were unlikely to meet the required emission cuts. 

The associate director at the Institute for Progressive Policy, Luke Murphy, warned that “these proposals will make us all more reliant on volatile, expensive, imported fossil fuels.”

Murphy also claims that, although there appears to be no intention to abandon the net zero 2050 commitment, delaying the key measures to get the UK there will essentially have the same effect.

These reported policy changes come after the Uxbridge by-election where the Ultra Low Emission Zone is said to have played a key part in the Tory victory. 

For the Conservative Environment Network’s Sam Hall, the Tory U-turn has not come as a surprise, saying that there have been murmurings in regards to a climate policy shift following their recent by-electoral successes. But Hall went on to state that this may very well be a grave political mistake. 

He said: “It is a mistake to generalise by the Uxbridge by-election. The risk is that the public will hear this as a step away from our climate goals, when the majority are in favour of them.”

Senior Tory Zac Goldsmith calls for election amid row over Rishi Sunak’s net zero plans

Senior Tory Zac Goldsmith calls for general election amid row over Rishi Sunak’s net zero plans

Tory peer Zac Goldsmith, who resigned from Rishi Sunak’s government as environment secretary in June with a scathing attack on his green policies, described the decision to roll back climate change measures as a “moment of shame” for the UK.

“I have had 00s of messages fro Cons friends in govt, Parliament and around the world telling me this move by the PM vindicates my decision to noisily resign,” he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“I didn’t want vindication. I hoped it would add pressure on govt to prove me & others wrong.

“We need an election. Now.”

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