Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s plans to delay some of the UK’s key commitments towards net zero have been met with backlash from both industry and across the political spectrum.
The move to net zero is popular with the public, with a recent poll from the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit suggesting that 70% of people support the UK’s target of becoming net zero by 2050. Given the popularity of the issues – why has Sunak’s Government announced a major watering down of the country’s net zero ambitions?
Many have pointed to the Conservative Party’s recent success in the Uxbridge by-election. It had been expected that the party would lose the seat formerly held by Boris Johnson, but it managed to cling on by around 500 votes. The unexpected success was put down to the local opposition to the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone, also known as ULEZ, which was spearheaded by the Labour Mayor of London.
However, can a local issue around the ULEZ’s expansion translate to winning votes across the country? Sunak is sure hoping so, after all the party has little to lose as it is currently polling 15-24 points lower than the Labour party. However, in announcing these changes, the Prime Minister risks civil war within his own party.
Immediately after the leaked plans were revealed, some senior Tories were quick to react, with former Energy Minister Chris Skidmore describing it as “potentially the greatest mistake of his premiership so far.” Meanwhile, former Cop26 President, Sir Alok Sharma, warned that “for any party to resile from this (climate action) agenda will not help economically or electorally.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg regarding the political reaction, but what about the industry reaction? We’ve collated some statements from across the industry and published them in full for you to gauge your own opinion.
Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit
Peter Chalkley, Director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) said that there are questions that the Prime Minister must answer on net zero, including:
How does this have any impact on cost of living now or in the coming years?
“The fact is the gas boiler and petrol car phase-out aren’t set to have any impact on those struggling with bills for at least a decade. The boiler phase-out would start in 2035 but only for those whose boiler breaks. The vast majority, 80%, of drivers buy second-hand and second-hand petrol cars would be on the market for literally decades to come. Delaying this policy will push up the cost of motoring as cheaper second hand EVs that are much cheaper to run than petrol cars will be less available.
“The one measure that would have brought down bills is the landlord energy efficiency rules. Rented accommodation is some of the worst quality and so most costly to heat with tenants having no power to insulate themselves. We’ve had the lowest rates of home insulation for years during a gas crisis thanks to his flatlining programmes. The off gas grid boiler phase-out has been watered down already in the Energy Bill and would only affect 0.2% of homes a year from 2026 anyway. These measures will add to the cost of living for those struggling, not make things easier.”
What is Plan B? These U-turns would likely break our climate commitments
“A delay to the phase-out of petrol cars and boilers would very likely break our carbon targets, breaking our climate change commitments. If he doesn’t have a plan for how to cut those emissions now, how can he jettison these policies. What is his plan B?”
Andy Prendergast, GMB National Secretary, said, “The UK needs a proper industrial strategy, not constant flip-flopping from a Government that has lost its way.
“GMB has been telling everyone for years that banning new gas boilers is complete folly when 25 million UK homes rely on natural gas for their heating.
“Gas will be a central part of the nation’s energy mix for decades to come and politicians need to wake up to this reality.
“If the nation is to secure our energy independence and secure new jobs as we tackle climate change, there needs to be a coherent, credible plan. This Government doesn’t have one.”
The rumoured postponement of the UK’s 2030 date for phasing out new petrol and diesel car and van sales – which of course has always permitted some forms of hybrids to continue to be sold – is not good news for anyone. It weakens confidence in UK investment. Vehicle manufacturers don’t like it. Those of us who are working to decarbonise homes and transport don’t like it. And families that cannot afford a new car won’t like it, because they may have to wait even longer to buy a cleaner and cheaper-to-run electric car in the used market.Jordan brompton, co-founder and cmo of myenergi
Ford Motor Company
Lisa Brankin, Ford UK Chair, commented,” Three years ago the government announced the UK’s transition to electric new car and van sales from 2030. The auto industry is investing to meet that challenge.
“Ford has announced a global $50 billion commitment to electrification, launching nine electric vehicles by 2025. The range is supported by £430 million invested in Ford’s UK development and manufacturing facilities, with further funding planned for the 2030 timeframe.
“This is the biggest industry transformation in over a century and the UK 2030 target is a vital catalyst to accelerate Ford into a cleaner future. Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three. We need the policy focus trained on bolstering the EV market in the short term and supporting consumers while headwinds are strong: infrastructure remains immature, tariffs loom and cost-of-living is high.”
The automotive industry has and continues to invest billions in new electric vehicles as the decarbonisation of road transport is essential if net zero is to be delivered. Government has played a key part in bringing some of that investment to the UK, and Britain can – and should – be a leader in zero emission mobility both as a manufacturer and market. To make this a reality, however, consumers must want to make the switch, which requires from the Government a clear, consistent message, attractive incentives and charging infrastructure that gives confidence rather than anxiety. Confusion and uncertainty will only hold them back.Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive
Yselkla Farmer, BEAMA CEO, said, “Investors need certainty and commitment from the Government. UK Net Zero targets represent a huge opportunity for employment and inward investment in the UK energy sector (see 2022 Net Zero Supply Chain report), and this is only possible with ambition. The automotive industry and associated infrastructure providers have already brought forward significant investments to meet the 2030 targets and this is ensuring the UK takes a leading role in this sector. A move by the Government to backtrack on these plans will stall investment, and worsen the growing distrust in policy that industry feels today. The recent move by the Government to retract UKCA deadlines is another example of a big hit to industry who have invested millions in preparing for a longstanding ambitious government target. What we need is stability and certainty; without it, our economic strength in the energy and climate sectors globally will be depleted.
“There is a way to reduce the impact Net Zero has on the consumer purse through targeted policies that incentivise deployment of energy efficiency and low carbon heat in the right places. A thorough and well-planned low carbon heat policy would achieve this. A move away from gas and oil can bring financial benefits to consumers’ home energy use if we match this with a robust and world leading flexibility market, something we have been aiming to achieve for a number of years. At a time when energy bills are growing, now is the time to invest in energy efficiency policies that help consumers. The expected government move today will not do this, and the cost of Net Zero to the UK purse will only be greater.
“The Government’s own major policy document Powering Up Britain stated just six months ago that it was ‘setting a clear policy framework on energy security and net zero, so businesses can plan and invest with confidence. Smart and agile regulation, including the Zero Emission Vehicles mandate…as well as in areas such as building efficiency and heat pumps, will help drive demand for new products and services and accelerate innovation and investment.’ BEAMA hopes the Government will remember this and stick to the existing deadlines so all can stop deliberating and get on with the job.”
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.Dr Ashok Sinha, CEO at climate solutions charity Ashden
Griff Thomas, from renewables training provider, GTEC, urges the Prime Minister to “hold his nerve when it comes to Net Zero.”
Thomas commented, “I am saddened to hear that the Prime Minister is considering watering down the UK’s road to Net Zero, a road that is paved with a greener future and a buoyant economy. I implore Rishi Sunak, who also happens to be my local MP – a visitor to GTEC’s Hawes HQ – to stick with the plan, rather than risk the livelihoods of the many businesses that have now invested millions in supporting our low carbon ambitions. Dithering will upset investors, knock confidence and feed into the hands of the conspiratorial climate change deniers.
“You may think that this is what voters want, but I, and many of your MPs, don’t believe that is true. As our Prime Minister, you should be supporting plans that give us what we need – an end to fossil fuels that not only leads to a reduced carbon footprint, but also assists with energy security, and further reduces our reliance on unstable oil and gas rich nations which do not share our values. We have an opportunity to power ourselves, with policies that lead the world forward when it comes to countering climate change.
“Your own party has expressed a deep unease at the move. Who are you trying to please? The gas and boiler companies, the petrol and diesel car manufacturers? They have had plenty of time to diversify and under current plans, there will still be many years of these products. We are already far behind many European countries when it comes to alternative heat sources such as heat pumps, why put us back even further?
“We are struggling through a period of rising prices and economic uncertainty, back-tracking on Net Zero will only exacerbate the struggle. Ultimately, your voters will pay the price for this, surely this is not what’s best for Britain or the Conservative Party’s popularity?”
Speaking on X.com, formerly Twitter, Sam Richards, CEO of Britain Remade, noted, “Rishi Sunak’s Government has a track record of delaying the energy infrastructure we need to cut bills, dithering over the transport infrastructure we need to boost growth, and failing to deliver the planning reforms we need so young people can get on the housing ladder.
“At the very moment the US, the EU, China and others are investing trillions in building new clean industries, the Government now appears set to inject more uncertainty for businesses and put Britain further behind our rivals.
“Just like their bungled offshore wind auction that saw them fail to procure a single new offshore wind farm – chopping and changing the phaseout date for new petrol and diesel cars will baffle international investors, whose confidence in the Government is wearing thin.
“They’ve said they remain committed to net zero by 2050, but look set to renege on a host of policies that were put in place by Conservative Governments to get us there.
“We’ll take them at their word – next week Britain Remade will every day release a practical, popular policy that will get growth going *and* put us back on track for net zero. The Government is welcome to take any of them.”
Likewise, Richard Hall, who works on energy advice for Citizens Advice, noted on his X.com account, “The principal driver of the current energy bills crisis is the high price of fossil fuels. Delaying action to reduce our exposure to them isn’t likely to be in the long term interests of consumers.”
Solar Energy UK
Chris Hewett, Chief Executive of Solar Energy UK, argued this was “evidence of a leader who is out of touch with the needs of UK plc, as well as energy consumers.
“Across the world, businesses in US, China, EU, India and beyond are in a global race to lead in the energy transition to renewables, electric vehicles and decarbonised heat, all of which will cut the cost of living for ordinary people. If Rishi Sunak really wants to put the brakes on the UK’s position in this race, it is an economic misjudgement of historic proportions.”
I have spent the day with ministers talking about how important long term stability in policy is for investor confidence. And now this? U-turn on net zero will undermine investment in our economy and reduce opportunities for our children – it’s their jobs being gambled.Dan McGrail, Chief Executive of Renewable UK, wrote on X.com.
Emma Pinchbeck, CEO of EnergyUK, shared a similar sentiment to Dan. On X.com, Emma noted, “I just came out of a meeting where a chunk of the British economy was assured by Ministers that Net Zero was a top priority, & policy stability is critical for investors.
“Meanwhile, this. Not a great look for UK PLC. Let us hope it’s ‘just the headline’”