Britain will delay a series of key climate targets, its embattled Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told a hastily arranged news conference on Wednesday, in a move that angered businesses and political allies and intensified the government’s assault on green policies.
Sunak told reporters on Wednesday he would push back a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035, significantly slow down plans to phase out gas boilers and reject calls to regulate energy efficiency for the owners.
The prime minister reiterated plans to expand oil and gas developments in Britain’s North Sea and drill for fossil fuels, which environmental groups have condemned. He also announced that the ban on onshore wind power would be lifted.
This marks a radical reversal from long-standing political consensus on climate, just two years after the UK hosted the crucial COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, and seriously undermines efforts to present Great- Brittany as a leader in the fight against the climate crisis. .
The move intensifies Sunak’s controversial new electoral strategy: reject Britain’s boldest emissions-cutting policies and take on climate activists, betting that the confrontation will appeal to traditional Conservative voters.
Sunak, who is working to reverse dismal opinion poll results ahead of elections due next year, has sought to present the rollbacks as a “more pragmatic, proportionate and realistic” way of reaching net zero – presenting the reversals as a longer-term and long-awaited change. when approaching climate policies.
Taking aim at his own Conservative predecessors as prime minister, Sunak said: “You don’t get to net zero just by wishing you could. And yet this is precisely what previous governments, whether Labor or Conservative, have done.”
“This idea that we are watering down our targets is simply wrong,” he said, adding: “If we continue down this path we risk losing the consent of the British people.”
He said he would “define the next stage” of his environmental agenda in the coming weeks, ahead of COP28.
Boris Johnson, whose tenure as prime minister included COP26 and adopted the net zero emissions pledge, hit back earlier in a rare public attack on his former chancellor turned political rival. “Businesses must have certainty of our net zero commitments,” Johnson said in a statement, calling on Sunak to give businesses “confidence that the government is still committed to carbon neutrality and can see the path to follow”.
“We cannot afford to falter now or in any way lose our ambition for this country,” Johnson said.
Sunak tried to bet a sometimes awkward compromise in his speech on Wednesday, insisting his plans will keep Britain on track to reach net zero emissions by 2050, while portraying previous plans as authoritarian and unfair to British workers .
“We have reached a consensus on the future of our country that no one seems to be happy with,” Sunak said. “Too often, motivated by short-term thinking, politicians have taken the easy way out… I have made my decision: we are going to change.”
It’s an argument that won’t convince climate experts, many of whom have warned that the UK has already fallen short of its targets. The Climate Change Committee, the government’s independent adviser on climate change, published a report in June criticizing the UK’s net zero emissions plans and saying there was not enough urgency to meet the objectives of the country.
Britain is legally required to have reached net zero – meaning the country would remove at least as much planet-warming pollution from the atmosphere as it emits – by 2050.
But delays in phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles and gas boilers will mean these products remain on Britain’s roads and homes well into the 2040s, potentially complicating efforts by future governments to accelerate the plans reduction of emissions.
There was also a dramatic political setback on Wednesday. Johnson’s comments sparked a series of concerns within Sunak’s Conservative Party over the plans, which were apparently hastily brought forward after Tuesday’s media leaks. Opposition lawmakers, businesses and climate groups have joined the party’s green wing to tackle the shift.
Alok Sharma, a Conservative politician who chaired the crucial COP26 conference, told the BBC ahead of Sunak’s press conference on Wednesday that rolling back the cross-party consensus on net zero would be “incredibly damaging to business confidence”.
“Frankly, I really don’t think this is going to help electorally any political party that chooses to go down this path,” Sharma added. Chris Skidmore, the former Conservative energy minister, told the PA Media news agency that the measures were “the biggest mistake of his tenure”.
Wednesday’s announcement comes at the same time as the UN General Assembly’s Climate Ambition Summit in New York, which Sunak is not attending.
On the sidelines of the UN summit, former US Vice President Al Gore told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that he thought Sunak “did the wrong thing.”
“I’ve heard many of my friends in the UK – including many in the Conservative Party, by the way – use the phrase ‘total disgust’ and some young people there feel that their generation has been stabbed. the rear. “It really shocks me, but again, it’s a problem that the UK needs to deal with,” he continued.
“From a global perspective, this is not what the world needs from the UK,” the climate campaigner added.
Also at the UN, Romain Ioualalen, a representative for the environmental group Oil Change International, told CNN at a press briefing that Sunak’s announcement is a sign of “how far the United Kingdom Uni has fallen on climate leadership.”
“At least from the perspective of civil society around the world, we are deeply concerned about what is happening in the UK. And this is a sign that science no longer seems to be listened to by this government,” Ioualalen said.
Sunak has leaned into an anti-green agenda since his party narrowly and unexpectedly won a by-election in far west London in July, dominated by plans to expand London’s Low Emissions Zone , by imposing a fine on drivers of the most polluting vehicles. charges for each day they used their car in the area.
The prime minister’s conservative party is deeply unpopular with voters, with opinion polls projecting between a comfortable defeat and a historic wipeout in the next general election, which must be called by January 2025 at the latest.
Against this backdrop, and with a struggling economy leaving the government with little room for drastic fiscal changes, Sunak has focused on a range of cultural issues and trumpeted socially conservative policies in a bid to please the party’s right-wing base.
But polls show the climate crisis is increasingly top of mind for British voters, and the opposition Labor Party has sought to attack Sunak over what it describes as a retreat from Britain’s former position. -Brittany as world leader. “Rolling back on key climate commitments while the world is hit by extreme flooding and wildfires would be morally indefensible,” Friends of the Earth policy chief Mike Childs said in a statement.
British businesses also criticized Sunak’s plans on Wednesday. Lisa Brankin, chairman of Ford UK, said in a statement that the car giant “needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. An easing by 2030 would undermine these three elements.”
And Ed Matthew, campaigns director at independent climate change think tank E3G, said the measures would increase household bills and “damage the UK’s ability to compete with other countries on clean technology “.
“As the United States, China and the European Union engage in a race for green growth, Rishi Sunak appears ready to capitulate,” he said. “The economic damage caused to the UK could be catastrophic. »