Government rolls backs on commitments to reaching net zero 

PM speaks of ‘pragmatic’, ‘proportionate’ and ‘realistic’ approach to achieving net zero by 2050 – but many don’t agree. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced yesterday afternoon that the ban on new sales of petrol and diesel cars will be extended from 2030 to 2035. He also committed to not doing a number of other things, such as requiring people to buy new boilers or heat pumps for their homes. 

Photo by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

In announcing the changes, the Prime Minister said that efforts to reach net zero emissions by 2050 ‘risk losing the consent of British people.’ He added that the upfront cost of transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) remains high and more time is needed to prepare.  

In fact, the car-manufacturing industry is moving fast to make the transition to EVs. For example, Vauxhall has announced it will be fully electric by 2028, two years ahead of the old deadline. Yet critics say the government has not been quick enough to supply the needed infrastructure in sufficient volume and wide enough distribution of charge points, and in connections to the national grid to support them. 

Indeed, Ed Miliband, Shadow Climate and Net Zero Secretary, was quick to call the announcement, ‘an act of weakness’, with the Prime Minister, ‘dancing to the tune of a small minority of his party’, who have been openly hostile to ambitions to reach net zero. The Prime Minister was now, said Mr Miliband, ‘trashing our economic future.’ He said it would ‘add billions in costs’ and ‘damage investor confidence’. 

Others have also criticised the decision. ITV journalist Shehab Khan quoted figures in the car industry saying, ‘The UK is closed for business.’ ‘This [decision] will only delay reaching net-zero emissions’, concluded leading science magazine New Scientist.

The Prime Minister countered that the extension to the deadline brings the UK in line with countries such as France, Germany and Spain. Others point out that this means ceding lead in this important area to Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Singapore, who all remain due to phase out sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles in 2030. 

EVs are not the only target of the new line of direction. The Prime Minister also announced that a proposed ban on new oil or liquid petroleum gas boilers from 2026 has also been pushed back. He also ruled out taxes on meat and to discourage flying – which have never been policy. 

‘I am not abandoning any of my targets or commitments to net zero,’ insisted the Prime Minister. ‘I am unequivocal that we will meet our international agreements.’

He referred to the lifting of the ban on onshore wind turbines announced two weeks ago. He also cited new carbon capture and storage projects, funding for the proposed Sizewell C nuclear power station – the first new one in the country for 30 years – and new small modular reactors, plus the speeding up of energy security projects. We await further details of these initiatives.

In related news:

‘Gigahub’ for electric vehicles at NEC Birmingham 

Jaguar Land Rover recycles EV batteries to store grid power

Tata Group invest more than £4bn in UK electric car battery factory in Bridgwater


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