‘This is idiocy’: Green economy leaders slam PM’s backtracking on key low-carbon policies
UPDATED: MPs including Chris Skidmore have been joined by business leaders and environmental experts in condemning Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to weaken key policies on low-carbon buildings and transport.
Media outlets including the BBC and the Guardian began reporting late on Tuesday (19 September) that Sunak was preparing to confirm several key green policy rollbacks later this week.
Sunak subsequently confirmed that the reports were true and set his speech for Wednesday afternoon (20 September). He chose to make the announcement in a news briefing rather than in the House of Commons, to the anger of the Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who stated that MPs had a right to immediately hold Sunak to account.
Sunak gave the speech in front of a lectern with the slogan: “Long-term decisions for a better future.”
The speech included confirmation of a five-year delay on the ban on new petrol and diesel car sales. This was set for 2030 under Boris Johnson but will now be amended to 2035.
Sunak additionally promised no new taxes on meat or flights, and weakened targets on phasing out fossil fuel boilers and improving energy efficiency.
Lastly, Sunak axed reforms to home recycling schemes first promised in the 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy.
Sunak is understood to be taking this line due to a push from several of his backbench MPs relating to the costs of the transition being placed on the general public. This has intensified since the Tories won the Uxbridge by-election on a pledge to challenge the expansion of London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zones.
Some Ministers including Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman have also used this rhetoric, as has Jacob Rees-Mogg. He was Business and Energy Secretary briefly last year under Liz truss.
But Sunak has been told by a far larger cohort of organisations and individuals, including trade bodies, MPs, NGOs and think-tanks, that net-zero and economic growth go hand-in-hand and should not be framed as being at odds.
He has also been urged to consider what his announcements will mean in terms of how other nations perceive the UK’s climate efforts. This week is the UN’s General Assembly and the Climate Group’s annual gathering in NYC. It also marks the 10-week countdown to COP28 in Dubai.
Here, edie rounds up the reaction to Sunak’s speech.
Net-Zero Review author Chris Skidmore MP:
“This is potentially the greatest mistake of [Sunak’s] premiership.
“The decision to delay any commitments that have been made will cost the UK future jobs, inward investment and economic growth that could have been ours by committing to the industries of the future.
“It will potentially destabilise business confidence that could have created thousands of jobs. Instead, they will go elsewhere. Ultimately, the people who will pay the price for this will be householders whose bills remain higher as a result of costly and inefficient fossil fuels and remaining overly dependent on volatile international fossil fuel prices.
“We have the potential to seize an economic opportunity, as many other countries are doing, rather than letting it slip through our fingers.”
Climate Change Committee chair Piers Foster:
“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.
“More action is needed and we await the Government’s new plan for meeting their targets and look forward to receiving their response to our Progress Report, expected at the end of October.”
Baroness Parminter, chair of the Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee:
“I am dismayed by today’s announcement and will be writing to the Prime Minister, on behalf of the committee, outlining our concerns and seeking clarification on his roadmap to net-zero.
“Given that a third of all emission reductions required by 2035 need to come from individuals and households adopting new technologies, choosing low-carbon products or services and reducing carbon-intensive consumption it is hard to see how our legally-binding carbon targets will now be met.”
Sir Alok Sharma, COP26 President and former Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy:
“The UK has been a leader on climate action, but we cannot rest on our laurels. For any Party to resile from this agenda will not help them economically or electorally.
“If we have countries around the world resiling from their commitments, the Earth is going to be on life support.”
Ashden’s chief executive Dr Ashok Sinha:
“If the PM wanted to do maximum harm to the UK economy, then this would be the way to do it. The green transition is not only necessary to prevent catastrophic environmental impacts, but it’s the only way to secure our country’s future prosperity.
“Putting us into the slow lane in the race to net-zero will only scare off investors, damage our credibility with business and put the brakes on the climate innovation that we see growing in SMEs and communities across the country. This will only hurt jobs, livelihoods and living standards.”
The Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology’s (REA) chief executive Dr Nina Skorupska:
“While badged as a ‘pragmatic response’ to the cost-of-living crisis and the UK’s (undoubted) good progress to date on cutting emissions, it is hard not to see today’s news as a retrograde step arguably designed to play to the PM’s base before party-conference season and pre-election.
“Furthermore, Sunak feeds into the ongoing misguided media rhetoric of ‘net-zero extremists’, picking high-profile policies to roll back on in the hope of garnering votes, while leaving the industry a few positive measures through an effective repackaging of ongoing commitments.
“It is curious as to how the government intends for the UK to remain a world leader by retracting on commitments – Industry urgently requires details on the Prime Minister’s new approach as a whole.”
ShareAction’s director of policy Lewis Johnston:
“The Prime Minister has said he wants the City of London to be the world’s first net-zero financial centre. Yet this backtracking on agreed policies sends the opposite signal to the finance community and will be discouraging to investors.
“To enable investors to play their part in supporting the UK’s transition to net-zero, the Government needs to demonstrate unambiguous, consistent commitment to climate action that is aligned with credible timeframes to prevent the worst impacts of climate breakdown.”
Ed Gillespie, co-founder of Futerra and sustainability entrepreneur:
“[This is] beyond risible. Listening to the Government’s plans to push back the ban on sale of petrol and diesel cars this morning on the radio, and the head of the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders saying it wasn’t what they wanted, they were all investing for and focused in electric vehicles and net-zero begs the question who or what is this policy for? Certainly not the industry.
“This is idiocy, for paltry political benefit in vain attempts to stoke a culture war on green issues.”
The Aldersgate Group’s executive director Rachel Solomon Williams:
“The net-zero transition must be delivered in a way that is equitable and considers the needs of the public. However, pushing back targets is not the way to do this, and uncertainty only serves to complicate matters for businesses and disincentivise investment in the UK at a time when other nations are recognising the potential of the net-zero transition.”
KPMG’s vice-chair and head of energy and natural resources, Simon Virley:
“Large-scale business investments in the industries of the future, like EVs and low-carbon heating technologies, and their accompanying supply chains, are only possible if there are stable, long-term policies in place.
“The constant uncertainty that comes with changes in target dates and commitments, simply makes it harder to attract the investment we need to boost the UK economy and reach our legally binding Net Zero goals. The risk now is that the UK will continue to fall behind in the global race for green investment, and our homegrown businesses will lose out.”
Natural England chair and Cool Earth chair Tony Juniper:
“Science is very clear. It’s not net-zero in 2050 that must be the headline goal, but cutting emissions before then, including 50% cut by 2030. Delaying action deepens peril for our children and grandchildren.”
The IPPR’s associate director Luke Murphy:
“Rishi Sunak has misread the mood of the public who overwhelmingly back net zero and want to see more climate ambition and action from the Government – not less.
“The decisions announced today will make households poorer, colder, and more reliant on volatile, dirty, and expensive fossil fuels. They also potentially put the UK off track to meet its legally binding climate commitments.
“Households are already feeling the benefits of home-grown, cleaner energy, with wind power much cheaper than expensive, imported gas. While those who own green technology like electric vehicles and heat pumps are facing lower levels of inflation. These measures would have accelerated cost reductions benefiting consumers right across the UK, now much of these benefits could be lost.”
The UK Sustainable Finance and Investment Association’s (UKSIF) chief executive James Alexander:
“Despite growing warnings from the investor community, the Government continues to wobble on its climate commitments, damaging investor confidence and putting the UK’s economic future at risk.
“Transitioning to net-zero presents a huge economic opportunity, as leaders in the US, EU and elsewhere recognise, but ignoring investor invoices will only reduce the UK’s share of this global prize.”
The Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change’s (IIGCC) chief executive Stephanie Pfeifer:
“The UK’s long-term, legally binding net-zero commitments are not enough to provide investors with confidence if they are not supported by credible short and medium-term policies to deliver on them. The Government’s mixed signals… create uncertainty that makes it harder for investors to factor climate considerations into their long-term investment decisions.
“Critically, investors are more willing and able to invest in climate solutions in the UK if the government can demonstrate supportive and stable policies, as the EU and US are doing. Simply put, the UK risks missing out on considerable investment if the government continues down its current path.”
The Association for Decentralised Energy’s chief strategic advisor Joanne Wade:
“While the Conservative Party boasts a distinguished legacy of decisive climate action… [this] threatens to derail this tradition.
“These delays not only risk destabilising our commitment to addressing climate change but will also lead to lost jobs and the erosion of business confidence in investing in the UK. This comes at a time when other nations are actively courting such investments, making it even more vital that we demonstrate unwavering resolve in our deployment of energy efficiency measures, heat networks, flexibility upgrades and industrial decarbonisation.
“Ahead of the coming winter, it is particularly disappointing to hear that efforts on energy efficiency will be scaled back… Far from costing the public, minimum energy efficiency standards would have saved renters money and created both growth and jobs at the same time.”
UK100’s chief executive Christopher Hammond:
“The PM’s short-term election gamble will leave businesses and local communities dealing with the consequences of higher bills, a less competitive economy and dirty air.
“If [he] is serious about being honest about net-zero, he should be clear that delaying action means we won’t deliver our climate goals. Standing still is more expensive in the long-run.”
NewAutoMotive’s chief executive Ben Nelmes:
“Pushing the ban on buying petrol and diesel cars back to 2035 is an abdication of leadership that motorists will pay the price for. It sets us back in the global race to develop green industries – a huge own goal by the UK.
“It’s also a hammer blow to the UK’s leadership on climate change. Despite what the Prime Minister has claimed, it will be harder to meet our legally binding emissions targets.
“He is right to say that electric car prices are dropping and charging infrastructure is improving – but this is thanks to the industry investing billions of pounds working towards the 2030 target. Pushing the date back will raise costs for motorists by deterring future investment in the UK EV industry and supply chain.”
Flora & Fauna’s chief executive Kristian Teleki:
“As the world’s leaders focus today on tackling the existential and spiralling crises of climate change and nature loss with scaled up ambition, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is scuttling backwards on promised UK climate action. This isn’t global leadership and jeopardises the collective drive to accelerate climate efforts because of the message it sends to people in poorer nations and emerging economies.”
ActionAid UK’s chief executive Halima Begum:
“The UK Government’s sudden reversal of its net zero commitments is reckless and irresponsible. Climate action is not a political bargaining chip that can be taken on and off the table to satisfy party political squabbles, but a global imperative.
“The climate crisis is not a future event, it is happening now. People are facing flash floods, droughts, rising sea levels and irreversible damage that has already led to tragic deaths around the world this year alone.
“The call for climate justice has never been louder and it is vital that leaders act decisively and with one voice to address this existential threat.”
Scottish Green MEP Mark Christopher Ruskell:
“These proposals are not just disastrous for our environment, but also for our economy. The Tories are turning their back on a huge economic opportunity and the chance to rebuild our country. They have killed the certainty needed by investors to grow new sectors of the economy that are vital for our economic prosperity.
“It’s a sharp contrast to the bold action that we are taking here in Scotland and will leave us even more dependent on the oil and gas drilling that is doing so much damage.”
North of Tyne Combined Authority Mayor Jamie Driscoll:
“This is economically illiterate and borders on climate denialism. Unless we give industry some certainty, they will not invest in green energy generation and clean transport. The UK will lose jobs. Mr Sunak is proposing a lose-lose.”
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas:
“The PM is totally incoherent. It’s nonsense to keep saying he’s still committed to net-zero by 2050 if he’s abandoning the steps to actually achieve it. It’s like saying he’s committed to putting out the fire at the same time as letting down all the tyres on the fire engines.”
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