British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced on Wednesday that he was delaying by five years a ban on new petrol and diesel cars due to come into force in 2030, watering down climate targets which he said imposed “unacceptable costs” on ordinary citizens.
The move has angered environmental groups, opposition politicians and large parts of British industry, but has been welcomed by some members of the ruling Conservative Party, who chafe at the idea of putting ending the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
At a press conference, Sunak said he was extending the deadline for buying new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035, weakening the ban on new natural gas domestic ovens which were due to start in 2035 and removing the requirement for landlords to build properties. more energy efficient.
He said he would deliver on his promise to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, but with “a more pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach”.
In a statement intended at least partly to woo voters ahead of next year’s election, Sunak rejected environmental proposals including new taxes on aviation, measures to encourage carpooling and taxes on meat – none of which were actually introduced.
To achieve net zero emissions targets, he said, the government will build more wind farms and nuclear reactors, invest in new green technologies and introduce new measures to protect nature.
Sunak argued the UK was “far ahead of every other country in the world” in transitioning to a green economy, but said moving too quickly risked “losing the consent of the British people”.
“How can it be right that British citizens are now being asked to sacrifice even more than others? he said.
The UK’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen 46% from 1990 levels, mainly due to the almost complete elimination of coal in electricity generation. The government had committed to reducing emissions by 68% compared to 1990 levels by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
Sunak said these commitments remain. But with just seven years until the first target, the government’s climate advisers said in June that the pace of action was “worrisomely slow”. Sunak’s decision in July to approve new oil and gas drilling in the North Sea also prompted critics to question his commitment to climate goals.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who set the 2030 petrol car target when he was leader, said businesses “must have certainty of our net zero emissions commitments”.
“We cannot afford to falter now or in any way lose our ambition for this country,” he said.
News of a rollback broke as senior politicians and diplomats from the UK and around the world – along with the heir to the British throne, Prince William – gathered at the United Nations General Assembly United in New York, where climate is high on the agenda. Sunak is not present, sending his deputy instead.
Greenpeace UK executive director Will McCallum said Sunak “is not offering workers honesty or a better future – he is once again putting his oil and gas friends first”.
Environmentalists were not the only ones concerned about this decision. Carmakers, who have invested heavily in the switch to electric vehicles, have expressed frustration at the government’s change of plan.
Lisa Brankin, director of Ford UK, said the company had invested 430 million pounds ($530 million) to build electric cars in Britain.
“Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. Easing by 2030 would undermine all three goals,” she said.
Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said “the government’s decision to suddenly reverse course and delay the ban on petrol and diesel cars makes us feel like we are fragile, unreliable and incapable of leading the green energy revolution.”
Analyst Tara Clee of investment firm Hargreaves Lansdown said the withdrawal could damage Britain’s hard-earned reputation for leadership in green technology.
“These changes send the message that nothing is set in stone and that making a serious commitment to a moving goal could pose a major business risk,” Clee said.
Britain’s Conservatives have openly reassessed their climate change pledges after a special election result in July that was widely seen as a rejection by voters of a tax on polluting cars.
The party, which is trailing the Labor opposition in national opinion polls, unexpectedly won the contest for the suburban London district of Uxbridge by focusing on a divisive levy on older vehicles imposed by the Labor Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. Some conservatives say removing green policies would be a way to win votes and could help the party avoid defeat in national elections due by the end of 2024.
But Conservative lawmaker Alok Sharma, who chaired the COP26 international climate conference in Glasgow in 2021, warned it would be “incredibly damaging… if the political consensus we have forged in our country on the environment and climate action is breaking.”
“And frankly, I really don’t think it’s going to help electorally any political party that chooses to go down that path,” he told the BBC.
Peter Cox, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter, said that as the world is set to see temperatures rise 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels within a decade approximately, countries “must act urgently to meet their net zero emissions commitments.” .”
“It is a terrible time for the UK to backtrack on its commitments, sending mixed messages to the business community who desperately need clarity to enable investment and innovation in a low carbon future “, did he declare.