'Investors spooked': Rishi Sunak to Unveil Controversial Revisions to Nation's Future Net Zero Plans
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak dropped a bombshell last night, foreshadowing a seismic shift in the UK's approach to Net Zero commitments. Unsurprisingly, this comes on the heels of confidential documents surfacing, indicating a potential backtrack on several pivotal climate initiatives.
"For too many years, politicians in governments of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade-offs," Sunak said. "Instead, they have taken the easy way, saying we can have it all.
"This realism does not mean losing our ambition or abandoning our commitments. Far from it. I am proud that Britain is leading the world on climate change. We are committed to net zero by 2050 and the agreements we have made internationally - but doing so in a better, more proportionate way."
He added that "our politics once again put the long-term interests of our country before the short-term political needs of the movement."
Sunak also confirmed a speech about his new plans would come "this week to set out an important long-term decision we need to make so our country becomes the place I know we all want to be for our children".
He stressed that "no leak will stop me from beginning the process of telling the country how and why we need to change."
Sunak's stance was defended this morning by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who used the morning media round to argue that the government was seeking a more "proportionate approach" to the net zero transition, claiming that "we are not going to save the country by bankrupting the country."
However, she stressed that the government's commitment to its long-term net zero target - which she opposed during last year's Tory leadership race - was "undimmed," insisting the government remained "absolutely committed" to meeting the goal.
Braverman refused to be drawn on the details of the Prime Minister's speech, fuelling speculation Number 10 is planning to go through with plans that would ditch or delay the host of the government's decarbonization policies.
The BBC reported last night that multiple sources had revealed Sunak was considering making at least seven significant policy changes or fresh commitments, all likely to slow the pace of decarbonization.
Sources claim a possible alteration in the target date for phasing out new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035. Moreover, there could be a watering down of gas boiler regulations, along with other potential shifts that would decelerate the pace of the UK's decarbonization efforts.
Conservative MP and author of the government's recent Net Zero Review, Chris Skidmore, said: "If this is true, the decision will cost the UK jobs, inward investment, and future economic growth that could have been ours by committing to the industries of the future. It will potentially destabilize thousands of jobs and see investment go elsewhere. And ultimately, the people who will pay the price for this will be householders whose bills will remain higher as a result of inefficient fossil fuels and being dependent on volatile international fossil fuel prices."
Writing on X, former COP26 President Alok Sharma said, "For any party to resile from this agenda will not help economically or electorally."
Former Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke warned Number 10's threatened reforms would substantially negatively impact the UK's investment climate.
"The UK has carved out a world-leading role delivering net zero in a market-friendly way that will deliver clean, secure energy and thousands of jobs in deprived communities like Teesside," he said. "My 'Red Wall' constituents overwhelmingly support it. We should be exceptionally careful of seeking to extract political advantage on this issue when the efforts of successive Prime Ministers - the majority of them Conservative - have been dedicated to upholding what Margaret Thatcher called a "full repairing lease" on our planet.
"Businesses rely on certainty to make major investments like that just secured from Tata in Somerset. It is unclear how they are to plan at all if we respond to one byelection in west London by tearing up key planks of government policy… I am very clear: the delivery of net zero should not be a hair-shirt exercise. But I am equally clear that it is in our environmental, economic, moral, and (yes) political interests as Conservatives to make sure we lead on this issue rather than disown it."
There was a similarly furious response from business leaders.
In a statement, auto giant Ford warned the UK's target to end the sale of new internal combustion engine cars from 2030 was "a vital catalyst to accelerate Ford into a cleaner future," reiterating that it has pledged to invest $50bn in electrification globally, including $450m in the UK.
"Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment, and consistency," the company said. "A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three."
Any change to the 2030 phase-out date would contradict public assurances repeatedly provided by Ministers that the plans would remain unchanged.
Yesterday's reports also came after energy industry leaders had met with senior Ministers and were provided with assurances the government saw net zero as a top priority and understood policy stability was critical to investment.
Writing on X, Emma Pinchbeck, chief executive at trade body Energy UK, said businesses "had no idea what to make" of the Prime Minister's statement. "This cannot be an explanation for a speech about reviewing Net Zero, surely, when it's about a) our children, b) our country, and c) putting long-term interest above short-term political need?" she said. "If this is actually a speech where the Prime Minister is going to make good the government's promise to do things like respond to the Inflation Reduction Act, but a negative headline was briefed for politics, then it was badly done and needs fixing. The spin is the thing here.
"If it's not spin, then as UK is off-track against our targets, as we're due to drop to the bottom of the G8 for clean investment by 2030, and when 40 per cent of households struggled to pay bills in a global gas spike that green measures can help avoid again - well, I'd fix that too."
Simon McWhirter, deputy chief executive at the UK Green Building Council, offered a similarly damning assessment of the government's plans.
"If these reports are confirmed, it is beyond disappointing," he said. "It's damaging to the industry who were scaling up for these changes, and this package of net zero delays will be doubly destructive to our climate. Buildings are the second biggest source of climate emissions in the UK. We can't keep burning fossil fuels to heat our homes and meet our legal climate targets.
"Other countries such as France are working ten times faster to install heat pumps to get off the hook of expensive gas and protect energy security. The roll-out of the government's heat pump subsidy scheme has been slow but could be massively enhanced by a much bigger effort to insulate our homes. This will be a real blow to the green business, investment, and quality jobs that must be at the heart of our country's future as we rebuild. We know from other technologies that if government sets a target, the industry will skill up and scale up, confident there is a market."
Jess Ralston, head of energy at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), warned the proposed changes would ultimately lead to higher bills for households and businesses.
"If these rumors are true, the sheer number of u-turns would speak of chaos at the heart of government," she said. "Rowing back on energy efficiency leaves the poorest with higher bills. Delaying the transition to EVs means fewer, cheaper-to-run second-hand cars. The phase-out of gas boilers wasn't due to kick in for another 12 years and then only when boilers broke.
"All of this would leave us more dependent on foreign oil and gas, less energy independent, and with investors spooked, putting jobs in the industries of the future in jeopardy. Only recently, the government blundered the offshore wind auction, leaving bill payers to pay an extra £1bn on expensive gas power stations instead.
"As the rest of the world is rushing to invest in net zero industries, any further rowing back by the UK would leave our international standing further tarnished. The British people are concerned by the more extreme floods and wildfires they see here and elsewhere, back net zero, and seek leadership from the government in delivering it. This would be the complete opposite."
The reports have also sparked speculation the government could face a fresh legal challenge if it goes through with its proposals. Ministers are already facing a court hearing after green groups alleged current decarbonization plans are insufficient to meet legally binding emissions targets for the 2030s. At the same time, the government has been successfully sued over its failure to provide enough detail on how it planned to meet its emissions goals.