- By Henry Zeffman & Chris Mason & Brian Wheeler
- BBC news
Rishi Sunak considers watering down some of the government’s key green commitments as part of a major policy change.
According to the BBC, this could include delaying the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and phasing out gas boilers.
The prime minister is going to introduce changes in his speech in the coming days.
Responding to the announced plans, he said the government was committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but in a “more reasonable way”.
The net zero goal is for the UK to remove as much greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere as it puts into it.
The Prime Minister said: “For too many years politicians in government of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade-offs. Instead they have taken the easy way out and said we can have it all.”
“This realism does not mean losing our ambitions or abandoning our commitments. Far from it.”
“I am proud that Britain is leading the world on climate change.
He said the UK was committed to the international climate agreements it had already entered into.
“No leak will stop me from starting the process of telling the country how and why we need to change,” he said.
Mr Sunak added that he would deliver a speech later this week “to set out the important long-term decisions we need to make to make our country the place I know we all want it to be for our children”.
If the plan goes ahead, it would mark a significant shift in the Conservative Party’s approach to net zero policy, as well as creating a clear dividing line with the Labor Party.
According to several sources briefed on Downing Street’s thinking, Mr Sunak would use the speech to celebrate the UK as a net zero world leader.
But he would also argue that Britain has overdone its efforts to tackle climate change and that other countries need to do more to pull their weight.
Some specifics of the speech are believed to be still under discussion, but as it stands it could include up to seven major policy changes or commitments, according to documents seen by the BBC.
First, the government would push back the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars – currently due to come into force in 2030 – back to 2035. The 2030 date is government policy from 2020.
Second, the government would significantly weaken the plan to phase out gas boilers by 2035, saying it only wants 80% phased out by that year.
Third, homeowners and landlords would be told that no new home energy efficiency regulations would apply. Ministers have considered imposing fines on landlords who fail to upgrade their properties to a certain level of energy efficiency.
Fourth, the 2026 off-grid oil boiler ban will be delayed to 2035, with only an 80% phase-out target by that date.
In addition, Britons will be told there will be no new taxes to discourage flying, no government policies to change people’s diets and no measures to encourage carpooling.
Mr Sunak is also likely to rule out what he sees as burdensome recycling schemes.
A Labor spokesman said: “This is a complete farce. The country cannot continue with a Tory government in total chaos, stumbling from crisis to crisis.”
“Ministers must urgently clarify all eight policies to be reviewed.”
Conservative MP Chris Skidmore, a former UK prime minister with a net zero rating, said that watering down green policies would “cost the UK jobs, inward investment and future economic growth that could be ours if we commit to the industries of the future”.
“There is still time for Rishi Sunak to think again and not make the biggest mistake of his prime ministership, condemning the UK to miss what may be the opportunity of a decade to deliver growth, jobs and future prosperity,” he said.
Former Tory minister Sir Alok Sharma, who was president of the COP26 climate summit, said the UK had been a leader on climate action “but we cannot rest on our laurels”.
“Any party backing away from this agenda will not help economically or electorally,” he added.
Greens MP Caroline Lucas called any return to net zero “economically illiterate, historically inaccurate and ecologically illogical”.
But Tory MP Craig Mackinlay, who chairs the Net Zero Control Group, said he was “pleased to see some pragmatism” from Mr Sunak.
Pushing the dates back for net zero targets “will take the ‘green’ measures in the sky from clearly unattainable deadlines”.
Former Tory minister David Jones said an overhaul of green policies was “inevitable and sensible”, adding that going ahead with the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars would “seriously damage the UK car industry”.
On Thursday, the king will be on a state visit to France, where he will host the so-called Climate Mobilization Forum.
The event convenes climate finance specialists and aims to help developing economies adjust to reduce emissions.
The King will be accompanied by Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.