In recent years, the urgency of addressing climate change and achieving net-zero emissions has become increasingly clear. Yet on Tuesday evening, it was leaked that the Prime Minister was considering watering down some of the country’s climate policies. 

The leak led to pressure from businesses and the media, including from Good Energy. We issued the following statement from Nigel: 

“UK companies are committed to combatting climate change. We want to make the country a leader in the decarbonisation of power, heat and transport. In rolling back net zero policies, Sunak would not only be sticking two fingers up at nature and our children’s futures, but at British business.”

Which was featured in The Times and City AM among other places. We also joined over 400 other organisations, including WWF, Friends of the Earth, Triodos and the National Trust in co-signing an open letter expressing deep concerns to the PM.

In the afternoon it was announced that Sunak would be making a speech at 4.30pm. Here’s what the rather rushed announcement contained. 

What were some of the takeaways from the announcement?

The UK’s commitment to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 was a big step in the fight against climate change. The Prime Minister says the government still intends to keep to that commitment but have decided to alter some of the shorter-term targets. The announcement started with the Prime Minister walking onto the stage and saying, “Let me get straight to it”. 11 minutes and 49 seconds later, he began discussing the government’s change in approach to its net zero target.

Some of these changes include:

  • A five-year delay in the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, meaning a requirement for all new cars to be “zero emission” will not come into force until 2035.
  • A nine-year delay in the ban on new fossil fuel heating for off-gas-grid homes to 2035.
  • Raising the Boiler Upgrade Grant by 50% to £7,500 to help households who want to replace their gas boilers. 
  • Scrapping the requirement on landlords to ensure all rental properties had an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of grade C or higher, from 2025.

You can see more details on GOV.UK.

Government thinking behind the changes and critical analysis

A positive piece of news was the raising of the Boiler Upgrade Grant by 50% to £7,500. This does help people who want to replace their boiler with a heat pump. The rest of the policy adjustments were unfortunately not as pleasing.

During the announcement yesterday, Mr Sunak spoke about how the government wanted to take a “fairer” path to achieving the net zero target, in order to ease the financial burden on British families.

He went on to say, ‘We are going to make different decisions. We will not take the easy way out.’ -a line that should’ve given the Prime Minister pause.

While the government may argue that slowing down green policies is necessary for economic recovery and stability, it’s essential to recognize the link between economic and environmental well-being. Investing in green technologies and renewable energy not only mitigates climate change but also creates jobs, spurs innovation, and positions the UK as a hub for green industries. Focusing solely on short-term economic gains risks undermining long-term prosperity and exacerbating the climate crisis.

Although Mr Sunak said he wanted to make tough decisions in the short term to benefit us in the long term, it appears that the policy adjustments are likely to do the exact opposite. Slowing down progress in the short term is not going to speed up progress towards net zero in the long term. 

Most of these policy changes fail even on their own terms. Especially the energy efficiency relaxation — draughty homes and extending our use of fossil fuels will make British families poorer, rather than ‘easing a burden.’

What could the consequences be?

The consequences of slowing down green policy initiatives are incredibly far-reaching. They could include:

  • Missed climate targets: Perhaps the most immediate concern is the risk of missing climate targets. Delaying action on reducing emissions increases the likelihood of exceeding global temperature limits, leading to more severe climate impacts. 
  • Economic risks: The green transition presents economic opportunities, such as job creation in renewable energy and sustainable industries. Slowing down this transition may result in economic stagnation and missed opportunities for growth.
  • Environmental degradation: Delaying the transition to cleaner energy sources prolongs the use of fossil fuels, contributing to air and water pollution, habitat destruction, and other environmental harms.

The decision by Prime Minister Rushi Sunak to slow down green policy initiatives raises concerns about the country’s ability to achieve its net-zero emissions target by 2050, despite him saying this target remains the same. In fact the government’s official advisers the CCC, caveating that the full analysis must be conducted, have stated that the likelihood is these announcements push us further away from achieving our legal climate targets

To stay on track towards a sustainable and climate-resilient future, we must prioritize and accelerate our green policy initiatives, not kick them further down the road in the hope that somebody else will have to deal with them.

You can watch the full announcement below: