Missing an ‘opportunity of the decade’: Sunak receives backlash for net zero U-turn

Prime minister Rishi Sunak is set to announce a U-turn on net zero policies at the end of the week, sparking a backlash from industry leaders and politicians in his own party.

The BBC reported yesterday evening (19 September) that Sunak is considering weakening policies, including delaying the 2030 ban on the sales of new petrol and diesel cars back to 2035.

Sunak is also getting ready to announce a weakened plan to phase out the installation of gas boilers by 2035, saying that they only want 80% to be phased out by that year.

The BBC also reported that homeowners and landlords would be told that there will be no new energy efficiency regulations on homes.

Ministers had been considering imposing fines on landlords who fail to upgrade their properties to a certain level of energy efficiency.

The government will also announce that there will be no new taxes to discourage flying, no government policies to change people’s diets and no measures to encourage carpooling.

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Sunak still ‘committed’ to net zero by 2050

The prime minister released a statement in response to reports stating he “knows people are frustrated with politics and want real change,” but the “political system rewards short-term decision making that is holding our country back.”

“For too many years politicians in governments of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade-offs,” Sunak added.

“Instead, they have taken the easy way out, saying we can have it all.

“This realism doesn’t mean losing our ambition or abandoning our commitments. Far from it. I am proud that Britain is leading the world on climate change,” he continued.

“We are committed to net zero by 2050 and the agreements we have made internationally – but doing so in a better, more proportionate way,” added Sunak.

“Our politics must again put the long-term interests of our country before the short-term political needs of the moment.

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

“As a first step, I’ll be giving a speech this week to set out an important long-term decision we need to make so our country becomes the place I know we all want it to be for our children,” Sunak concluded.

Could a delay ‘undermine’ the country’s EV transition?

Ford UK chair Lisa Brankin said the delay on petrol and diesel car sales ban could undermine the country’s transition to electric vehicles.

“The UK 2030 target is a vital catalyst to accelerate Ford into a cleaner future,” said Brankin.

“Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three,” she continued.

Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) CEO Mike Hawes told the BBC that the delay is sending an “incredibly confusing” message to consumers.

He said the industry “continues to invest billions of pounds into these new technologies, electrified vehicles, battery vehicles, both abroad and here in the UK.

“And indeed, the government has backed the industry with investments into Tata’s battery plant in Somerset, Cowley for BMW, so we’re questioning what is the strategy here, because we need to shift the mobility of road transport away from fossil fuels towards sustainable transport.

“We don’t quite know what’s going to happen now.”

NewAutomotive CEO Ben Nelmes said the 2030 deadline delay would “putt the rug from under motorists and industry” and would be a “hammer blow to the UK’s leadership on climate change.

“This is a huge shock to the industry, which has invested billions in electrification – and on top of that, it’s also bad news for the planet,” Nelmes added.

“This is a cynical short term attempt to politicise an area of sensible, settled policy. The car and energy industries have been working tirelessly towards this. I hope that Rishi Sunak sees sense and does not backtrack to the extent that it’s being trailed on Friday,” he added.

Be.EV CEO and co-founder Asif Ghafoor commented: “The rate at which consumers have adopted EVs has been faster than predicted. The government must create policies that build on the public’s enthusiasm rather than sabotage it.

“We need legislation to unlock the power trapped in the system – but it’s all taking too long. Every leg of the planning, permissions, sourcing power and building process slows an installation down – charging networks are not able to move anywhere near quick enough to keep up with the amount of drivers transitioning to EVs

“In decarbonising transport, we are facing a thoroughly novel challenge and a major industrial shift,” Ghafoor added.

“If the government is truly committed to the EV transition, they have to take the strategic lead,” he continued.

A split in the Tory camp

Sunak’s U-turn has widened the rupture in the Conservative party even wider.

Conservative MP Suella Braverman argues the U-turn is a “sensible way” of reaching net zero,

Speaking with Times Radio, Braverman said: “We’ve achieved a huge amount in the last decade … but ultimately, we have to adopt a pragmatic approach, a proportionate approach, and one that also serves our goals. And we’re not going to save the planet by bankrupting the British people.

“I commend the prime minister for making difficult decisions, putting the interests of the economy first, putting the interests of British workers first, putting the interests of household costs first. That’s how we’re going to grow the economy. That’s how we’re going to protect people’s livelihoods.”

On the other hand, Tory MP Chris Skidmore says Sunak’s trackback could lead to the UK missing out on a “opportunity of the decade.”

“Diluting green policies would “cost the UK jobs, inward investment, and future economic growth that could have been ours by committing to the industries of the future,” added Skidmore.

“Rishi Sunak still has time to think again and not make the greatest mistake of his premiership, condemning the UK to missing out on what can be the opportunity of the decade to deliver growth, jobs and future prosperity,” he said.

An ‘immense blow’ to UK’s green industries

Naked Energy CEO and co-founder Christophe Williams said Sunak’s U-turn is an “an immense blow” to the UK’s renewable energy industries.

“We’ve seen so many policies implemented and then watered down or scrapped – consumers and industry will end up paying the price for the government’s indecision,” he added.


“Reliable government policy and investment in renewables is urgently needed to revitalise investor and business confidence and re-establish the UK as a net zero leader. Markets and investors need to see a clear and consistent long-term strategy that extends beyond the usual 5-year cycle,” Williams continued.


“The government is missing the immense opportunity that domestic manufacturing of renewables presents, which can generate economic growth and new jobs across the country. 


“The impact on the UK’s energy security also cannot be understated. If we don’t rapidly invest in our domestic infrastructure, the country will remain extremely vulnerable to the volatility of global energy markets and foreign powers – we simply can’t continue like this,” he warned.


“Doing nothing now will only cost us more in ten years’ time – we’ve already seen this happen over the past decade, and we can’t let it happen again,” Williams concluded

Taking the public for fools

Greenpeace UK’s policy director Doug Parr suggested Sunak is “taking the public for fools.”

“Sunak claims he’s helping ordinary people by playing politics with the climate, but we know the real winners will be big corporations like the oil and gas lobby,” Parr continued.

“Rowing back on home insulation and commitments to help people move away from gas will ensure we stay at the mercy of volatile fossil fuels and exploitative energy companies.

“It will also spook international investors who will be looking for genuine government commitment on the green economy, costing the UK jobs and opportunities.

“The many scandals we face like the cost of living, inequality, and the energy crisis can be fixed with the same solutions we know will tackle the climate crisis,” he added.

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