Sunak insists UK remains committed to net zero by 2050 as he considers 'watering down' key climate pledges

19 September 2023, 19:48 | Updated: 20 September 2023, 12:25

The ban on sale of new petrol and diesel cars is expected to be pushed back from 2030 to 2035
The ban on sale of new petrol and diesel cars is expected to be pushed back from 2030 to 2035. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

The government is poised to push back the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by five years, LBC understands.

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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.

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A Government spokesman said this evening: “The Government remains completely committed to its Net Zero commitments, with the U.K. having cut emissions faster than any other G7 country.

"Our approach will always be pragmatic and ensure costs are not passed onto hard-working families. We will not comment on speculation.”

Industry figures had become sceptical that the 2030 date for the petrol car ban would go ahead. Car dealers predicted the ban would be delayed in recent polling - amid public anger at being forced to switch to more expensive electric vehicles.

Lisa Watson, director of sales at Close Brothers Motor Finance, told a trade publication: ‘We know that consumers have mixed emotions about the switch to electric; with only one in ten saying they are planning a pure electric car as their next purchase in recent research.

‘Dealers are joining them in their belief that change will not happen fast enough to meet the current plan to ban the sale of all new solely petrol and diesel vehicles in the UK in 2030."

Another key policy under question is the plan to phase out gas boilers from 2035.

Mr Sunak has repeatedly deployed the language of pragmatism and proportionality when discussing net zero, but campaigners and activists have accused him of a lack of interest in climate policies.

Tory success in the summer's Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, won largely through a campaign against the expansion of the ultra low emission zone (Ulez), led to some MPs to call for Mr Sunak to water down or abandon net zero pledges.

While Mr Sunak has repeatedly said he is committed to cutting carbon emissions, the granting of new oil and gas licences and recent moves to curb green policies have attracted criticism.

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."

Hannah Martin, co-director of Green New Deal Rising, said: "Once again this Government has shown that they are hell-bent on breaking their promises and doing nothing to stop climate chaos. Just weeks after the hottest summer on record Rishi Sunak has decided to ignore science and stoke a culture war.

"Whilst global leaders are meeting to discuss how to tackle the climate crisis, he has stayed home to set fire to some of the only remaining climate policies this Government had left.

"Not only will the UK miss out on the opportunity to create millions of good green jobs and secure our energy future, we will be once again seen as a laggard as we duck out of doing our fair share to tackle the biggest existential crisis we face."

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