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Rishi Sunak Stands by 2050 Net Zero Target

rishi sunak

This week, Rishi Sunak has made headlines for changing a number of key government policies relating to the environment. One of the biggest policy shifts is the ban on selling new petrol and diesel cars will be pushed back five years to 2035.

Other policy shifts include a change in the urgency for gas boilers to be replaced by electric heat pumps and energy efficiency targets being scrapped for landlords. Planned installation requirements for homeowners will now also be stripped back. In light of the announcement, Sunak has faced criticism from all angles. Those from the Labour party have called it a “farce” while some within his own party have urged him to reconsider. Unsurprisingly, climate groups such as Greenpeace have also taken a dim view of the shift.

Despite the changes, the Prime Minister said “I’m very happy to have opinions and advice from everybody, and everyone’s entitled to their view. We’re very confident – being in government, with all the information at our disposal – that we we are on track to hit all our targets. I’m not going to be deterred from doing what I believe is right for the long-term future of our children. That’s what yesterday was about and that’s what I will continue to do.”

A political move?

Many critics of the policy shifts have suggested that Sunak is playing politics rather than doing what he actually thinks is best for the country. In the recent Uxbridge by-election, the Conservatives took home a narrow victory courtesy of their proposal to push back against Sadiq Khan’s expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ). Many believe that this has prompted Sunak to use environmental policy as a way to create a clear, dividing line with opposition parties ahead of the looming general election, which will take place no later than January 2025.

The language used by Sunak in his speech on Wednesday has also attracted attention. Some of the policies that he insisted he was “scrapping” included taxes on people when they fly, compulsory car pooling and plans to provide households with up to seven recycling bins. None of these policies currently exist, however, when pressed on this the Prime Minister insisted that they were in the works, saying that “these are all things that have been raised by very credible people” and mentioned the Climate Change Committee (CCC) as a body that was advocating for them. He added “this is absolutely about doing what I believe to be in the long-term interests of the country. I want to change the direction of our country. I want to build a better future for your children.”

A warning from the Climate Change Committee

Earlier this year, the Climate Change Committee warned the government that their progress towards reaching the 2050 net zero target had been “worryingly slow.” The latest developments have therefore been heavily criticised by the body, whose job is to advise the UK on climate change policies.

Chris Stark, the Committee’s Chief Executive, has also accused Sunak of playing a political game with these policy changes while also warning that the net zero target will now be even harder to reach. He said “he seems to be cancelling a set of policies that the Government hadn’t announced, which is, I suppose, a political technique. It’s difficult to escape the idea that we’ve moved backwards from where we were when we did our last assessment of progress in June.

“It looks like those goals will be even harder to hit with this softer package now around climate policy. The key thing is that those goals still remain, the Prime Minister recommitted to them. “I would say that the wishful thinking here is that we have not got a policy package to hit the legal targets that this country has set in law through the Climate Change Act.”

Final thought

While Sunak insists that these changes are in the long-term interest of the country, it’s difficult to look past the risk they pose to undermining the nation’s climate goals. There is also understandable scepticism around Sunak’s motivations, especially in the lead-up to a general election. Additionally, the Climate Change Committee’s concerns about the slow progress towards net zero, which they have been consistent with throughout 2023, make it difficult to believe that the UK truly is on track to meet its targets.

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