LONDON – Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced Wednesday that he is delaying by five years a ban on new petrol and diesel cars that was due to come into force in 2030, weakening climate targets that he said impose “unacceptable costs” on ordinary people.
The move angered green groups, opposition politicians and large parts of British industry, but was welcomed by some in the ruling Conservative Party, who are chafing at ending the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
At a press conference, Sunak said he was pushing back the deadline for buying new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035, weakening the ban on new natural gas furnaces for home use, due to start in 2035, and requiring lessors to making property was deleted. more energy efficient.
He said he would stick to his pledge to cut the UK’s emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050, but with “a more pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach.”
In a statement aimed at least partly at convincing voters ahead of next year’s election, Sunak rejected environmental proposals including new aviation taxes, measures to encourage carpooling and taxes on meat – none of which have actually been introduced.
To meet net zero 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 that Britain was “way ahead of any other country in the world” in transforming 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 told to sacrifice even more than others?” he said.
Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 46 percent from 1990 levels, mainly due to the almost complete removal of coal from electricity generation. The government had pledged to cut emissions by 68 percent of 1990 levels by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Sunak said these commitments remain. But with just seven years to go until the first target, the government’s climate advisers said in June that the pace of action is “worryingly 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 targets.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who as leader put forward the 2030 target for petrol cars, said businesses must have “certainty about our net zero commitments”.
“We cannot afford to falter now or in any way lose our ambition for this country,” he said.
News of plans to return emerged as senior politicians and diplomats from Britain and around the world – and heir to the British throne Prince William – gathered at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where climate is high on the agenda. Sunak is not present and sends his deputy instead.
Will McCallum, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said Sunak “is not offering fairness or a better future for working people – he is once again putting his oil and gas cronies first.”
Environmentalists weren’t the only ones concerned about the measure. Automakers, who have invested heavily in the move to electric vehicles, expressed frustration at the government’s change in plan.
Lisa Brankin, head of Ford UK, said the company has invested 430 million pounds ($530 million) in building electric cars in Britain.
“Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation by 2030 would undermine all three,” she said.
Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “The government’s decision to suddenly reverse and delay the ban on petrol and diesel cars leaves us shaky, unreliable and unable to be able to lead the green energy revolution.”
Analyst Tara Clee from investment firm Hargreaves Lansdown said the withdrawal could undermine Britain’s hard-won 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 movable goalpost could be a major business risk,” Clee said.
Britain’s Conservatives have publicly reassessed their climate change pledges following a special election result in July that was widely seen as a thumbs-down from voters for a tax on polluting cars.
The party, which trails the Labor opposition in national polls, unexpectedly won the battle for the London suburb of Uxbridge by focusing on a divisive levy on older vehicles imposed by London’s Labor mayor, Sadiq Khan. Some conservatives believe that scrapping green policies is a vote-winner that could help the party avoid defeat in national elections due in late 2024.
But Conservative MP Alok Sharma, chair of the 2021 COP26 international climate conference in Glasgow, warned it would be “incredibly damaging… if the political consensus we have forged in our country on the environment and climate action is broken.”
“And honestly, I really don’t believe it will help electorally any political party that chooses this path,” he told the BBC.
Peter Cox, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter, said that with the world on track to see temperatures exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels within about a decade, countries need “urgent action must take to meet their net zero commitments. .”
“This is a terrible time for Britain to be reneging on our commitments and sending mixed messages to the business community that desperately needs clarity to enable investment and innovation in a low-carbon future,” he said.