UK government suffer angry backlash over plan to delay climate pledges 

Article by Kerry Hebden

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Industry and environmental groups unite in opposition to policy shift

RISHI SUNAK’s series of policy changes surrounding the UK government’s approach to net zero has drawn fierce criticism from industry, and environmental groups. The prime minister staged a snap press conference to announce that the government will push back a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars until 2035, delay the phasing out of gas boilers, scrap policies that would force landlords to upgrade energy efficiency in their homes, and stop a ban on new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea.

Insisting the UK is still on a path to delivering net zero, Sunak denied he was “watering down” climate targets, and instead framed his decision on easing the burden on families who would suffer financially because of net zero pledges.

However, Dave Reay, executive director of Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, University of Edinburgh, called the decision “pathetic” and “not pragmatic”.

It’s a far cry from 2019 when the UK became the world’s first major economy to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050.  

This was followed two years later by the government enshrining into law another ambitious goal of reducing emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, based on recommendations by the independent Climate Change Committee’s sixth Carbon Budget report.

Since 1990, emissions within the UK have fallen by 48.7% up to the end of 2022 – excluding international aviation and shipping. This reduction is greater than other countries in the G7. But the decision to approve the UK’s first new deep coal mine in 30 years and plans for a major new oilfield off the coast of Scotland have added to growing fears that government efforts to scale up climate action is now “worryingly slow”.

The CCC warned that the UK has now lost its leadership on climate issues and conceded that Sunak’s announcement is likely to take the UK further away from being able to meet its legal commitments. That, coupled with the recent unsuccessful offshore wind auction, “gives us concern,” the CCC said.

Many others have also voiced their concerns, including some high-profile Conservatives, and carmaker Ford. Although Sunak said pushing back a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars to 2035 would align the UK’s approach with countries like Germany, France, and Spain, Ford warned it would undermine business certainty. Chris Norbury, chief executive of E.ON UK, said that delaying some environmental targets to reduce pressure on household budgets during a cost of living crisis was a “false argument”, while Jürgen Maier, a former chief executive of Siemens UK called it a “disaster”. “It’s a disaster for jobs, well-paid jobs. And it’s a disaster for business confidence and investment – and we need exactly the opposite,” he said.

This article is adapted from an earlier online version.

Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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