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The UK will water down policies aimed at achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 following Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision, announced on 20 September, to push back the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the UK from 2030 to 2035. 

Sunak also announced an easing of energy efficiency targets for rental properties and backtracked on plans to make homeowners replace gas boilers with heat pumps.

“We can adopt a more pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach to meeting net zero” that would bring the UK in line with countries such as France and Germany, he said.

Reacting to the news, Halima Begum, CEO of ActionAid UK, told Investment Monitor that the UK Government’s sudden reversal of its net-zero commitments “is reckless and irresponsible”.

“Climate action is not a political bargaining chip that can be taken on and off the table to satisfy party political squabbles, but a global imperative,” she added. “The climate crisis is not a future event, it is happening now. People are facing flash floods, droughts, rising sea levels and irreversible damage that has already led to tragic deaths around the world this year alone.”

Meanwhile, Nick Kirsop-Taylor, an expert in environmental governance from the University of Exeter, joined a chorus of other academics in saying it is “truly disappointing news” since time is running out for the global action required to keep global temperatures to below 1.5°C, let alone 2°C.

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The UK has a huge opportunity to be at the forefront of leading the change the world needs towards sustainable futures, he added, saying: “We need leadership, ambition and courage. We all need national policy certainty and clarity, and this announcement of intent from the government heaps more uncertainty and confusion upon the different sectors of British society moving towards rapid decarbonisation. Weakening our climate policy commitments is a backwards step.”

This ‘uncertainty’ is already being bemoaned by key voices in the UK economy. For example, the Financial Times carried a front-page story reporting that some car manufacturers considered the news to be a “huge setback” for the industry, which is in need of stability.

Meanwhile, the UK needs private investment to reach its net-zero target, but unclear policies and insufficient public funding pose problems, as reported by Energy Monitor earlier this month after Treasury Minister Gareth Davies pulled out of a meeting with clean energy bosses.