Environment

'Reckless', 'inept', 'expensive': Rishi Sunak's net zero U-turn unleashes avalanche of criticism

Industry, environmentalists, and MPs have slammed Rishi Sunak’s screeching net-zero U-turns, as experts estimate the policy shifts could cost British renters almost £8 billion

Rishi Sunak has back-peddled on several key net zero policies. Credit: Rishi Sunak youtube

“Reckless”, “catastrophic”, “inept,” “damaging,” “shameful,” “embarrassing” and “expensive”. Industry, environmentalists and MPs have slammed Rishi Sunak’s screeching net zero U-turns, as experts estimate the policy shifts could cost British renters almost £8 billion over the next decade.

The prime minister watered down a string of key climate pledges yesterday, delaying the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by five years, from 2030 to 2035, pushing back the phase-out of gas boilers and scrapping energy efficiency upgrades to homes.

Clare Moriarty, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, warned that the regulatory bonfire would “hurt renters”, leaving “millions of tenants across the country facing needlessly high bills through the winters ahead”.

Bills could be increased by £8 billion over the coming decade, analysis from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit has shown.

“The PM has sided with landlords over renters, putting their energy bills and cost of living up by ducking the improvement of rules on energy efficiency,” Jess Ralston, Energy Analyst at ECIU, said.

“That doesn’t make any sense when excess cold in homes costs the NHS £1.2bn per year and renters are amongst those with the lowest incomes.”

Home energy efficiency architects from around the country echoed these fears.

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Architect John Christophers – who co-curates the Retrofit Reimagined festival in Birmingham – warned that the backpedal would drive up costs.

“Diluting energy efficiency standards for the private rental sector penalises those least able to cope with damp and draughty housing and higher energy bills, going against the most fundamental human values of care and fairness,” he said.

How have business leaders reacted to the policy U-turns?

The policy shifts have unleashed an avalanche of criticism from industry.

More than 400 business leaders – including Nestle, IKEA, Brunel, Aviva Investors and E.ON – wrote to the prime minister urging him to reconsider the plans.

“The business community has already made substantial investments in the net zero transition,” the letter, sent ahead of yesterday’s press conference, reads.

“We urge you not to weaken any net zero policies. If you do so, we believe this would be a historic mistake of your premiership, which could do lasting damage to the UK economy.”

Car manufacturer Ford warned that the policy shift “undermines” investment in the country.

Will the UK still meet its net zero targets in spite of Rishi Sunak?

In his press conference Rishi Sunak insisted he was “100% committed” to meeting all the UK’s emissions targets.

But the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the government’s independent advisors on how well it is meeting its targets to tackle climate change, expressed doubt over this claim.

“We need to go away and do the calculations, but today’s announcement is likely to take the UK further away from being able to meet its legal commitments,” Piers Forster, chair of the CCC, said in a statement.

The announcements left environmental groups incandescent with fury.

Campaign group Friends of the Earth described the policies as “environmentally reckless and economically inept”.

“Building a green economy is the best way to tackle the cost of living crisis, boost energy security and strengthen the economy,” said head of policy Mike Childs.

“Weakening these green policies will simply undermine business confidence and put British jobs at risk.”

On X – formerly known as Twitter – ‘seven bins’ trended, as people mocked Sunak’s tweet promising an end to mandatory recycling, a meat tax and compulsory car sharing. None of these have ever been policy in the UK.

Leo Murray, co-director of climate charity Possible, described the U-turn as “catastrophic”.

“Kicking net zero further down the road will have unimaginable consequences both in the short and long term,” he said.

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According to polling by More in Common, 49% of the British public want the government to do more to reach net zero, and only 18% less. Even among Tory voters, the split is 31%-26%.

The announcement has been divisive amongst Conservative politicians, too. Ex-chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng told Newsnight it was “sending the wrong signal”. Tory peer Zac Goldsmith, who quit as environment minister in June after blasting Sunak’s environmental “apathy”, described the U-Turn as a “moment of shame”.

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