Rishi Sunak is considering weakening key green policies

  • Written by Henry Zifman, Chris Mason, and Brian Wheeler
  • BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

Rishi Sunak is considering weakening some of the government’s key green commitments in a major policy shift.

Multiple sources told the BBC that this could include postponing a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars and phasing out gas boilers.

The Prime Minister is preparing to outline changes in his speech in the coming days.

In response to the announced plans, he said the government was committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 but “in a more proportionate way.”

The aim of net zero is for the UK to remove as much greenhouse gas emissions – such as carbon dioxide – from the atmosphere as possible.

“For too many years, politicians in governments of all stripes have not been honest about the costs and trade-offs. Instead, they have taken the easy way out, saying we can have it all,” the Prime Minister said.

He added, “This realism does not mean losing our ambition or abandoning our commitments. Rather, it is far from that.”

“I am proud that Britain is leading the world on climate change.”

He said that the United Kingdom is committed to the international climate agreements it has already concluded.

“No leak will stop me from starting the process of telling the country how and why we need to change,” he said.

Mr Sunak added that he will deliver a speech later this week “to set out an important long-term decision we need to make so that our country becomes the place I know we all want it to be for our children”.

If the plan goes ahead, it would represent a major shift in the Conservative Party’s approach to net zero policy, as well as creating a clear dividing line with Labour.

According to multiple sources familiar with Downing Street’s thinking, Sunak will use the speech to praise the UK as a global leader in net zero emissions.

But he might also claim that Britain has over-delivered on its climate change commitments, and that other countries need to do more to pull its weight.

Some details of the letter are believed to still be under discussion, but as it stands it could include up to seven key policy changes or commitments, documents seen by the BBC indicate.

First, the government will postpone the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars – currently scheduled to come into effect in 2030 – to 2035. The 2030 date has been government policy since 2020.

Second, the government will significantly weaken the plan to phase out gas boiler installations by 2035, saying it wants to phase out just 80% by that year.

Third, homeowners and landlords will be told that no new regulations will be imposed on home energy efficiency. Ministers were considering imposing fines on property owners who fail to upgrade their properties to a certain level of energy efficiency.

Fourth, the 2026 ban on off-grid oil boilers will be postponed to 2035, with a phase-out target of only 80% on that date.

In addition, Britons will be told that there will be no new taxes to discourage flying, there will be no government policies to change people’s diet, and there will be no measures to encourage carpooling.

Sunak is also likely to rule out what he sees as cumbersome recycling plans.

A Labor spokesman said: “This is a complete farce. The country cannot continue with a Conservative government in complete disarray, stumbling from one crisis to the next.”

“Ministers need to provide urgent clarity on all eight policies said to be under review.”

Conservative MP Chris Skidmore, former head of the UK government’s net zero review, said relaxing green policies “will cost the UK jobs, inward investment and the future economic growth we could have achieved by committing to the industries of the future”.

He said: “Rishi Sunak still has time to think again and not make the biggest mistake of his premiership, which is dooming the UK to miss what could be the opportunity of the decade for future growth, jobs and prosperity.”

Lord Zac Goldsmith, who resigned as minister earlier this year after a stinging attack on Sunak’s “indifference” to climate change, said the prime minister was “dismantling” the UK’s credibility on environmental issues.

He added: “His short period as Prime Minister will be remembered as the moment the UK turned its back on the world and for future generations. It is a moment of shame.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas described any retreat from net zero as “economically illiterate, historically inaccurate and environmentally reckless”.

But Tory MP Craig McKinlay, who chairs the zero-sum audit group, said he was “pleased to see some pragmatism” from Mr Sunak.

Postponing the dates for net zero targets “will take ‘greenwashing’ measures into the sky away from deadlines that are clearly unachievable.”

Former Conservative minister David Jones said a shake-up in green policies was “inevitable and sensible”, adding that pushing for a 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars would “cause serious damage to the British car industry”.

On Thursday, the king is scheduled to pay a state visit to France, where he will host what is known as the Climate Mobilization Forum.

This event brings together climate finance specialists and aims to help developing economies make adjustments to reduce emissions.

The King will be accompanied by Foreign Minister James Cleverly.

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