UPDATED: UK signals green policy delays to not ‘bankrupt the people’

Reading Time: 6 minutes
  • Sunak to set out climate plan this week
  • Targets on cars, heat pumps could change
  • Car industry angry with the move

By Kate Holton and Sarah Young

LONDON, Sept 20 (Reuters) – Britain has signalled it is preparing to delay some of its net zero policies to ease the financial burden on households, with one senior minister saying on Wednesday that “bankrupting the British people” would not save the planet.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will this week set out what he called a more “proportionate” approach to hitting net zero emissions by 2050, with a ban on new petrol and diesel cars expected to be pushed back to 2035 from 2030.

Some car companies, which are investing heavily to adapt their plants to launch new electric vehicles, reacted angrily to the news while some lawmakers in Sunak’s Conservative Party welcomed it as a sensible decision.

Ford UK Chair Lisa Brankin was scathing: “Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.”

Adoption of electric vehicles has been growing steadily, with the industry saying there were more than 1.1 million electric cars on UK roads as of April – up by more than half from the previous year to account for around one in every 32 cars.

Britain was the first major economy to create a legally binding target to bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 and they have fallen almost 50% since 1990 as coal power plants closed and offshore wind power took off.

Successive Conservative governments vowed to use the historical transformation as a way to reignite economic growth and spur innovation, with many regional politicians competing to attract investment and tout their area’s green credentials.

But Sunak’s government has recently appeared to waver on some of the measures needed to hit the target as the cost of decarbonising everything from travel to the heating of homes starts to crystallise during a prolonged cost-of-living crisis.

With a national election expected next year, Sunak sees scaling back some green policies as a way to win over swing voters – a striking reversal for a country which until recently had proclaimed itself a leader in climate policy.

“We have to adopt a pragmatic approach, a proportionate approach and one that also serves our goals, and we’re not going to save the planet by bankrupting the British people,” interior minister Suella Braverman told Times Radio.


A delay to the introduction of a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2035 would put Britain in line with the European Union.

The government has already revised the target on several occasions in recent years, setting an initial goal of 2040 before it was reduced to 2035, then 2030 in an effort to phase out reliance on the combustion engine and reduce air pollution.

Critics say that a delay would prevent Britain from taking a lead on the electrification of the economy, which can attract jobs and investment.

“It will potentially destabilise business confidence that could have created thousands of jobs. Instead they will go elsewhere,” said Chris Skidmore, a former energy minister who recently led a review into the country’s net zero progress.

Ford said it had spent 430 million pounds ($532 million) on its UK development and manufacturing facilities, with “further funding planned for the 2030 timeframe”.

Sunak is now having to balance the need to reassure big business with the pressure he faces from his own lawmakers to not do anything that would exacerbate the pressures already being felt from high inflation and stagnant economic growth.

Sunak’s party, which has trailed the opposition Labour Party in polls for over a year, unexpectedly won an election to fill a parliamentary seat this summer, helped by its opposition to an ultra-low emission zone for vehicles.

Other areas that could be up for review are the phased introduction of heat pumps to replace gas boilers in homes, and insulation targets.

Sunak was talking to senior ministers on Wednesday and some media reports suggested he could announce the policy change later in the day.

‘Confusion’ on climate policy

The transition to electric cars in Britain will be hindered by any confusion over climate policy, the auto industry’s trade body said on Wednesday, following reports that the government was planning to delay a 2030 ban on new petrol car sales.

“The automotive industry has and continues to invest billions in new electric vehicles as the decarbonisation of road transport is essential if net zero is to be delivered,” Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Chief Executive Mike Hawes said.

“To make this a reality, however, consumers must want to make the switch, which requires from government a clear, consistent message, attractive incentives and charging infrastructure that gives confidence rather than anxiety,” he added. “Confusion and uncertainty will only hold them back.”

The chair of Ford UK said Britain risked undermining the country’s transition to electric vehicles (EV) if the government relaxes its current target to ban new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is this week expected to delay some of the government policies which underpin Britain’s long-term plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050, including pushing back to 2035 the non-electric car ban.

Ford said dropping the 2030 deadline would be a mistake, and hinted it could put further investments at risk.

“The UK 2030 target is a vital catalyst to accelerate Ford into a cleaner future,” Ford UK chair Lisa Brankin said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.”

Ford said it had already invested 430 million pounds ($531 million)in its UK facilities and had been planning further investments to fit with the 2030 timeline.

“We need the policy focus trained on bolstering the EV market in the short term and supporting consumers while headwinds are strong: infrastructure remains immature, tariffs loom and cost-of-living is high,” Brankin added.

($1 = 0.8091 pounds)

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