Potential weakening of UK environmental policies causes shock and dismay

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The environmental and clean energy sectors have reacted with shock and dismay to speculation that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak plans to weaken key clean energy policies and Government’s commitment to achieving Net Zero by 2050.

According to reports the changes would include:

  • Pushing back the ban on selling new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035
  • Scaling back on efforts to improve the energy efficiency of homes
  • Delaying the ban on fossil-fuelled boilers in off-grid homes from 2026 to 2035
  • Amending the plan to end the installation of gas boilers by 2035 to a phasing out of 80%

While many had called for the off-grid boiler ban to be brought in line with the plan for properties on the gas grid (see here) these potential changes to policy are being viewed as damaging to both the UK’s economy and our efforts to fight climate change. They are also particularly surprising, given the need to reduce consumer’s bills and the efforts being made by countries across the world to expedite the energy transition.

Below we round up some of the reaction:

Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, Chief Executive of the REA said:

“Any rolling back on existing net zero commitments is not the smart economic choice for the country. It is short term policy making that guarantees more expensive bills for us all in the future.

“If confirmed, delays to both the ban on the sales of new petrol and diesel cars and the phasing out of gas boilers will extend the countries’ reliance on expensive fossil fuels. It also risks undermining the millions of pounds of investments that have already been made based on the understanding that Government is committed to seeing strong markets for EVs, heat pumps, biomass boilers, and other renewable technologies, in place by the 2030s. A reversal of these targets damages the opportunities these sectors are set to provide to the UK, both in terms of growth and jobs, while making the overall energy transition more expensive.

“Last year, the Net Zero Review was clear. The energy transition is the ‘economic opportunity of the 21st century’. Other countries are pursuing this at pace by putting in place generous support packages, as demonstrated by US Inflation Reduction Act. The UK cannot afford to look like it is exiting this race. If the Prime Minister is serious about energy security and ensuring an affordable energy transition, then he must not abandon these existing promises.”

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“The UK Government has consistently undermined efforts to address the climate crisis and has proved to be utterly incompetent at tackling the scale of the emergency. Now it is giving itself a ‘get out of jail free’ card by abandoning its own targets because it has failed to put plans in place to reach the crucial net zero target of a 100% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. It’s blaming rising costs when the truth is dither and delay will push bills up instead. Scrapping plans to help homes with better insulation and bring down emissions will leave households worse off and the UK more dependent on fossil fuel imports.

“Science tells us that our climate needs action much faster than that. We suffered the hottest June ever this year, the North Atlantic Ocean experienced a severe and unprecedented marine heatwave, and unseasonably wet weather caused problems for this year’s harvest for UK farmers in August.

“Out of kilter seasons are having negative effects on people and the natural world. Just as wildlife is suffering from polluted rivers and beaches, the Government’s desperate act to scrap plans to protect our planet and ecosystems will add to the pressure nature faces. All the while, the Government’s net zero policies on carbon-storing habitat recovery, peatland restoration and prevention of nature loss are far too little and too slow.

“If the Government doesn’t like the policies it has, it must come up with something better to ensure we’re on the path to net zero instead. We cannot put net zero on hold. Global commitments must be met – for the sake of British people, our food security, to reduce the cost of living, for our threatened natural world, and for future generations.”

Ben Nelmes, CEO of New AutoMotive, the transport research group that contributed to bringing forward the UK petrol and diesel ban from 2040 to 2030:

“Delaying the 2030 deadline would pull the rug from under motorists and industry, and would deal a hammer blow to the UK’s leadership on climate change. It would be incredibly disruptive for an industry which has invested billions based on what they were told was settled policy, undermining jobs and investment.

“The 2030 deadline is one of the few areas of net zero that will actually save people money. Shifting to electric cars and vans will drive down costs for UK drivers. This move will deny people access to cheaper motoring, and if we delay the ban it will actually raise costs for motorists.

“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. Pushing back 2030 risks putting net zero beyond reach.

“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.”

The ADE’s Flexibility Policy Manager Sarah Honan said:

“If today’s news is accurate, it marks a significant blow for both the UK’s energy security and for households’ chances to start paying affordable bills and rise up out of the cost-of-living crisis. Decarbonising heat and transport are not ‘nice to haves’ but the only way to reach net zero in an affordable way.

“Through the flexible electricity use of heat pumps and electric vehicles, the UK will make the best use of renewable generation and prevent unnecessary investments in expensive grid infrastructure. Delaying the deployment of smart and clean technologies will have a negative impact on investor confidence in the short term and hinder the affordability of these solutions for millions of households.”

Chris Hewett, Chief Executive of Solar Energy UK said:

“Across the world, businesses in US, China, EU, India and beyond are in a global race to lead in the energy transition to renewables, electric vehicles and decarbonised heat, all of which will cut the cost of living for ordinary people.

“If Rishi Sunak really wants to put the brakes on the UK’s position in this race, it is an economic misjudgement of historic proportions. It is evidence of a leader who is out of touch with the needs of UK plc, as well as energy consumers.”

The Prime Minister is expected to make an announcement in the coming days.

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