Skip to content

The future of net-zero

  • by JW

“When people are asked whether they support specific policies, taking into account the effect on their personal finances, they answer very differently.” [Ross Clarke, The Spectator]


What are the government’s current commitments to achieving net-zero targets?

LBC reports this evening that “Sunak insists the UK remains committed to net zero by 2050“:

The government is poised to push back the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by five years, LBC understands. The ban, currently set to come into force in 2030, is set to be pushed back to 2035, according to reports. The 2030 date has been government policy since 2020.

Responding to the reports, Mr Sunak said on Tuesday: “For too many years politicians in governments of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade-offs. Instead they have taken the easy way out, saying we can have it all. This realism doesn’t mean losing our ambition or abandoning our commitments. Far from it. I am proud that Britain is leading the world on climate change.”

It is one of as many as seven core net zero policies or commitments that are expected to be watered down in the coming days in a speech to be delivered by Rishi Sunak. Mr Sunak said he would give a speech later 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 it to be for our children”.

If the PM presses ahead with watering down the net zero pledges it will spark a major backlash within the party. Chris Skidmore, a Conservative former energy minister who has become increasingly outspoken on net zero, 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 destabilise 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. “Rishi Sunak still has time to think again and not make the greatest mistake of his premiership, condemning the UK to missing out on what can be the opportunity of the decade to deliver growth, jobs and future prosperity.”

Here’s a mixture of views from the press:

Rishi Sunak prepares to water down UK green measures | Financial Times

Ban on sale of new petrol and diesel cars could be delayed by five years as Rishi Sunak ‘prepares to water down Net Zero pledges’ with PM shifting to ‘pragmatic’ approach to climate action | Daily Mail Online

Sunak planning to drop net zero policies in pre-election challenge to Labour | Green politics | The Guardian

Rishi Sunak to water down net zero targets in major speech – Number of policies set to be axed |

Rishi Sunak mulling over watering down net zero commitments |

Rishi Sunak could delay sale of petrol and diesel car ban as ‘green policies watered down’ | Politics | News |

Ross Clarke writing in The Spectator in July saw this coming, declaring that “Sunak will have to water down net zero sooner or later“:

Lord Barwell, who was Theresa May’s chief of staff when net zero was nodded through the Commons in the dying days of her government, has taken to Twitter to accuse politicians of not being honest when they claim that net zero can be achieved without imposing the cost of living for households. But, he claims, the fact that net zero will cost us all shouldn’t deter the government from pursuing it – because public opinion is heavily on its side. 

The trouble is, the IPSOS poll (from last November) that he links to in an effort to back his point suggests the opposite of what he claims it does (and, indeed, what the headline of IPSOS’ press release claimed). When people are asked whether they support the net zero target in general they tend to say ‘yes’. But when they are asked whether they support specific policies, taking into account the effect on their personal finances, they answer very differently. 

Subsidies for electric vehicles? A net balance of minus 13 per cent of people said they support them. Phasing out gas boilers? Minus 14 per cent. Access to ‘sustainable pension funds’? Minus 31 per cent. An increase in vegetarianism? Minus 27 per cent. Low traffic neighbourhoods? Minus 39 per cent.

Interestingly, the one policy which did seem to appeal to the public is a ‘frequent flyer levy’, which had net support of plus 10 per cent. This is quite possibly because ordinary people are offended by the hypocrisy of elite figures who preach about climate change and then jet off around the world as if efforts to cut carbon emissions should not apply to them. But that is not something which the government is proposing. Rather the government seems to favour policies which will hit ordinary people while sparing the wealthy their private jets – not, one might have thought, a great election-winning strategy.

Will Sunak really water down net zero policies as he suggested he might? You can forget the net zero target by 2050 being dropped in the near future, although it will almost certainly have to be revised nearer the time. That is a legal commitment and would require legislation to amend. 

The ban on petrol and diesel cars by 2030 is another matter. The EU has already watered down its own commitment on this front, saying that internal combustion engine cars will still be allowed after 2035, so long as they are capable of being run on synthetic fuels. (This applies to all car engines, given that synthetic fuels could be made to any recipe you like.)