In a controversial move, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently announced the postponement of the ban on new gas and diesel cars by five years. This ban, initially slated to take effect in 2030, has now been pushed to 2035. Sunak argued that the stringent climate goals associated with the original timeline imposed “unacceptable costs” on ordinary citizens. While this decision has stirred mixed reactions, it sheds light on the ongoing debate between environmental concerns and economic considerations.
The delay drew sharp criticism from environmental groups, opposition politicians, and substantial segments of the UK’s industrial sector. However, within the governing Conservative Party, some welcomed the decision as they questioned the financial burden of phasing out the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.
During a press conference, Sunak not only extended the deadline for gasoline and diesel cars but also weakened plans to ban new natural-gas home furnaces starting in 2035 and abandoned requirements for landlords to enhance property energy efficiency. Sunak pledged to adhere to the UK’s commitment to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 but promised a “more pragmatic, proportionate, and realistic approach.”
Sunak’s statement appeared to be partly aimed at courting voters ahead of an upcoming election. He rejected several environmental proposals, including aviation taxes, carpooling incentives, and taxes on meat, none of which had been implemented. To meet net-zero goals, the government plans to increase investments in wind farms, nuclear reactors, and green technologies, along with implementing measures to protect nature.
While Sunak contended that the UK leads the world in transitioning to a green economy, he cautioned against moving too rapidly, fearing it could alienate the British public who might perceive the measures as excessive sacrifices. He asked, “How can it be right that British citizens are now being told to sacrifice even more than others?”
The UK has made significant strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, primarily by phasing out coal from electricity generation, resulting in a 46% reduction from 1990 levels. However, with just seven years left to reach the 2030 emission reduction goal, climate advisors warned in June that progress was “worryingly slow.” Sunak’s approval of new North Sea oil and gas drilling in July further fueled doubts about the government’s commitment to climate goals.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who initially introduced the 2030 gasoline car target, emphasized the need for certainty in achieving net-zero commitments, emphasizing the importance of unwavering ambition.
This announcement coincided with senior UK politicians and diplomats joining the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where climate discussions held a prominent place on the agenda. Greenpeace U.K. criticized Sunak for prioritizing oil and gas interests over the environment.
Automakers, who had invested significantly in electric vehicles, expressed frustration at the government’s change of plan. Ford U.K.’s head, Lisa Brankin, highlighted the importance of ambition, commitment, and consistency from the government for businesses like hers.
The decision also raised concerns about the UK’s reputation for leadership in green technology, as it signaled a potential lack of steadfastness. It came at a time when the world faces an imminent breach of the 1.5-degree Celsius temperature increase above pre-industrial levels.
While some Conservatives believe that axing green policies could be electorally advantageous, others, like Alok Sharma, have warned of the potential damage to the political consensus on environmental and climate action.
Source: Associated Press