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Sunak waters down key green pledges ahead of election battle

By Frank Prenesti

Date: Wednesday 20 Sep 2023

Sunak waters down key green pledges ahead of election battle

(Sharecast News) - UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday delayed a ban on new petrol and diesel cars as part of a calculated move to water down plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and play wedge politics ahead of the next general election.

While he insisted the move was not politically-driven, it was was delivered in a specifics-light Downing Street news conference that featured the Conservative Party logo. The Tories trail the main opposition Labour Party by 18 points in the polls, and 61% of voters currently disapprove of Sunak's leadership according to Politico's "poll of polls".

Overnight leaks of the plan had sparked chaos at Downing Street, ultimately forcing Sunak to bring the announcement forward by 48 hours and call an emergency Cabinet meeting to gain ministerial approval.

News of the plan to kick the 2030 ban date on new internal combustion engine vehicle sales further down the road to 2035 sparked fury among the motor industry, which has been spending billions tooling up for the transition to electric vehicles.

Key industry player Ford was highly critical, noting that the sector had already invested significantly to meet the 2030 deadline. "Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three," said chair Lisa Brankin on Wednesday.

Yet a defiant Sunak denied he was "watering down" the government's net zero commitments, claiming he could not force increased costs on to consumers, but did not specify in which areas these might fall under existing policies.

Delays to other pledges included the abolition of old gas boilers, although there was a 50% rise in grants to replace old models to help promote the installation of heat pumps.

Overall, the government cannot drop the commitment to reaching net zero by 2050, as the target was made legally binding when the Climate Change Act was amended in 2019.

"No one in Westminster politics has the courage to look people in the eye and explain what's really involved. That's wrong, and it changes now," Sunak said, adding there would be no new taxes to discourage flying or eating meat, though neither are actually government policy.

Keen supporters of greenhouse gas reductions lined up to attack the new proposals. Zac Goldsmith, a former environment minister, called the a "moment of shame", while Sunak rival and former PM Boris Johnson said "we cannot afford to falter now or in any way lose our ambition for this country".

Emissions reductions had been made in excess of targets, Sunak claimed in response, although these have been measured nationally from 1990, and previous administrations achieved the cuts via the switch to gas-fired energy generation from more polluting coal.

Younger voters, a key target group for the Conservatives, with its ageing membership, are highly sceptical of the government's handling of climate change. The latest YouGov data shows 59% of 18-24 years olds think it is performing badly, while 29% believe it is doing well with the next general election widely expected next year.

Reporting by Frank Prenesti for


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