Rishi Sunak has rowed back on earlier climate commitments, by delaying a ban on new petrol and diesel cars, and saying households will be given more time to switch from gas boilers to heat pumps.
Previously the government has said no new petrol or diesel vehicles would be sold after 2030 but this ban has been pushed back to 2035. This, Sunak said, matched similar timetables across Europe and in US states such as California.
Sunak denied that the government was watering downs its commitment to climate goals and the legally binding target to be net zero by 2050. He said he was “unequivocal that we will meet out international agreements” but said that the decision to move from petrol cars to electric ones should be the consumer’s choice. In today speech outlining these changes he said: “At least for now it should be you, the consumer that makes the choice, not the government forcing you to do it.”
He added households will have more time to make the transition to heat pumps, and will only need to make this switch when changing their boiler after 2035. In additional there will be additional funding to help householders with this upgrade.
Sunak was also critical about the lack of scrutiny and debate around previous carbon budgets that have been set by the government, stating these were enforced after just 17 minutes debate in the House of Commons. In his speech he said: “This was the carbon equivalent of promising to boost government spending with no way to pay for it”. He said in future the government must consider plans to meet carbon budgets at the same time as setting new restrictions.
Sunak added that mooted impose taxes on people buying meat and flying would be ditched, as would suggestions that there could be new legislation to limit the number of passengers in a car, or introduce new recycling measures.
Despite junking or delaying previous green plans, Sunak was keen to stress his environmental credentials announcing that the ban on onshore wind will be lifted, with the auction process being improved to maximise private investment in this area. He describes the package of measures as a “pragmatic approach” that balances the climate challenges the nation’s faces with the financial pressures being experienced by both government and individual households.
These new plans have attracted criticism, with Ford being one of the major car manufacturers who has complained about a lack of consistency and goal posts moving.
Sunak has received criticism from some parts of his party for sticking to net zero plans which may prove costly for consumers. This has been intensified by a perceived public backlash against traffic low-emission zones which penalise drivers with older more polluting cars.
Labour has been broadly supportive of plans to increase these. ultra-low emission zones (ULEZ), particularly around London, and today’s announcement will be seen by some as a political move, designed to appeal to car-driving voters and create a clear policy distinction between the two parties ahead of a general election. However this decision to row back on these net zero measures has also sparked ire from other Conservative members, most notably the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
WHEB Asset Management partner and head of research Seb Beloe says described the decision to delay “multi-decade-agreed deadlines on the net-zero transition” as “clearly unhelpful”. However he added: “This does nothing to change the direction of travel. It may give laggards more time to prevaricate – pushing up costs in financial and environmental terms – but the transition to zero carbon is still inevitable.”