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Sunak under fire for “reckless” weakening of environmental policies

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been heavily criticised by figures from across the environmental, energy and wider business communities following his speech earlier this week, in which he announced plans to weaken key environmental policies.

In his speech the PM confirmed a five-year delay to the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, amending to 2035, as well as moving the ban on fossil-fuelled boilers in off grid homes to 2035 (previously 2026). The plan to phase out 100% of gas boilers on the network has also be weekend to 80%.

Previous proposals for new energy efficiency regulations on homes from 2035 have been scrapped, as have plans to fine landlords for failing to upgrade the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings of their properties.

Mr Sunak’s has defended these actions stating that he wishes to remove the financial burden of the transition away from “ordinary families” and businesses, and that the delays “give us more time to prepare”.  He also said that he has “absolute confidence and belief” that the country is still on track to meet its’ Net Zero goal, despite these new plans seemingly ignoring the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee. 

The announcements have been heavily criticised both domestically and abroad, with one environmental campaigning labelling them as “environmentally reckless and economically inept”. 

Below is a summary of some of the reaction so far:

Piers Forster, Chair of the Climate Change Committee said:

“We need go away and do the calculations, but today’s announcement is likely to take the UK further away from being able to meet its legal commitments. This, coupled with the recent unsuccessful offshore wind auction, gives us concern.”

Jess Ralston, Energy Analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit said:

“This looks chaotic and not the way long-term policy should be made around important issues, with emergency cabinet meetings and investors spooked.”

“The implication that any of these policies were going to affect the cost of living here and now is untrue. In fact, the PM has sided with landlords over renters, putting their energy bills and cost of living up by ducking the improvement of rules on energy efficiency.”

Tanya Steele, WWF-UK Chief Executive, said:

“Abandoning these targets and delaying action to get us to net zero is incoherent at a time when other countries are turbocharging their efforts to attract the industries and jobs of the future. The evidence couldn’t be any clearer that acting on net zero will be a net benefit to society and the economy.”

Ed Miliband, Shadow Secretary of State of Climate Change and Net Zero said:

“Today is an act of weakness from a desperate, directionless Prime Minister, dancing to the tune of a small minority of his party.”

“Having delivered the worst cost of living crisis in generations, the Prime Minister today loads more costs onto the British people. Delaying the phase out of petrol and diesel cars will add billions in costs to families and damage investor confidence in the UK.”

Ford’s Chief Executive, Lisa Brankin said:

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

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said:

“We’re in a climate emergency. This government’s response flies in the face of common sense and shows they are climate delayers. It beggars belief that not only are they watering down vital commitments, but they are also passing up the opportunity to create green jobs, wealth and lower energy bills – as well as failing to give investors the certainty they need to boost the green economy.”

Mohamed Adow, the director of the Kenyan thinktank Power Shift Africa, said:

“This action from Sunak is a disgusting betrayal of vulnerable people around the world, not to mention economic vandalism upon his own country. The climate crisis was birthed in the UK through its creation of the combustion engine.

Al Gore, the former US vice-president and prominent environmental campaigner told CNN:

“I find it shocking and really disappointing … I think he’s done the wrong thing. I’ve heard from many of my friends in the UK including a lot of Conservative party members who have used the phrase, ‘utter disgust’.

“And some of the young people there feel as if their generation has been stabbed in the back. It’s really shocking to me.”

Joanne Wade, Chief Strategic Advisor at the ADE, said:

“The delays not only jeopardise our commitments to tackle climate change head-on but undermine the UK’s economic prosperity and impose unwarranted financial burdens on consumers during a cost-of-living crisis.”

Friends of the Earth’s campaigner, Chris Crean, said:

“Rishi Sunak is being environmentally reckless and economically inept.

“Building a green economy is the best way to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, boost energy security and strengthen the economy. Weakening these green policies will simply undermine business confidence and put British jobs at risk.”

E.ON UK Chief Executive, Chris Norbury, labelled the new plans as a “mis-step on many levels”, saying:

“There is no green v cheap debate. Delaying environmental targets to reduce pressure on household budgets during a cost of living crisis is a false argument.

“From a business perspective, companies wanting to invest in the UK need long term certainty to create the jobs and economic prosperity the country needs.”

Dan McGrail, Chief Executive of RenwableUK, said:

‘If all we see from government is a negative framing of green technologies, and an indication they see green industries as something to be politicised, investors are going to look overseas at more stable and attractive markets instead.”

Emma Pinchbeck, Energy UK’s Chief Executive said in an interview with ITV news’ Robert Peston:

“There was already a sense that the UK may be slipping behind on its climate commitments and this speech has caused unnecessary uncertainty at an already unstable time.

“The public has just been through a once in a generation energy crisis, largely driven by the price of imported gas. Electrifying the majority of heat is what we need to do for carbon budgets and to get people off imported gas.

“It is a shame to hear that Net Zero is bad for the economy, when in fact the opposite is true”.

The Prime Minister’s speech can be viewed in full on the Government’s website.

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