The UK government watered down action to Net Zero in a speech by the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on 20 September 2023.
Instead of announcing an ambitious agenda on how to help businesses and households alike to take steps towards reducing their emissions, some key policies were watered down. The ban on petrol and diesel cars was moved from 2030 to 2035. There are no longer requirements to replace gas boilers with heat pumps until 2035. Landlords do no longer need to make energy efficiency improvements to their properties. Any plans for shifting diets or increasing taxes on flying were scrapped.
The Prime Minister talked about action on Net Zero of being an ideological choice, which enters an uncharted territory on how action on climate change is discussed in policy debates. Up until now, the UK has praised itself as being the leader in climate change policy, with the first legally binding targets to reduce emissions set by the Climate Change Act of 2008. Many countries looked to the UK’s example and took action with similar regulation and targets.
Hugely disruptive, without helping households
As colleague Dr Matthew Lockwood, Senior Lecturer in Energy Policy at the University of Sussex Business School says: “Environmentally, this announcement is foolhardy. It delays action when urgency is paramount. And with over a quarter of the UK’s emissions coming from car use and home heating, the effect will be significant. Economically, these steps won’t help hard-pressed households now. They will have a hugely disruptive effect on investment and jobs in new green sectors, and will extend our reliance on the volatile prices of oil and gas. Politically, while it’s clear this is an attempt to claw back lost voters, this move is risky and shows a failure of leadership.”
Dr Malte Jansen, lecturer in energy and sustainability agrees this approach is bad for both businesses and households. As he says: “Scaling back on the speed, ambition and timelines for reaching net-zero negatively impacts consumers and investors. Consumers will be worse off by delayed climate action, overall paying more for heating their home and driving their cars, whilst investor must face huge uncertainty when making the necessary decision to reach net zero.
From leader to laggard
The UK now risks becoming a laggard, rather than a leader in climate chance action, and as colleague Dr Donal Brown, Research Fellow, at the University of Sussex Business School, puts it “This government has plumbed new depths of shame – playing politics with the well-being of society’s most vulnerable and the futures of our children”.
Our research with Green Alliance shows that action on Net Zero is beneficial, and can for example reduce fuel and transport poverty. With the latest news, the UK government is signalling to both business and households that action on climate change can wait. This, however, goes against the consensus of the scientific community , which has shown time and again, that urgent action is needed.
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