Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced that the ban on new petrol and diesel cars in the UK will be delayed by five years. The ban, originally scheduled to take effect in 2030, will now be implemented in 2035. Sunak justified the decision by claiming that the previous timeline imposed “unacceptable costs” on ordinary citizens.
While the delay was welcomed by some members of the governing Conservative Party who have voiced concerns about the expenses associated with transitioning to renewable energy, it has been met with criticism from environmental groups, opposition politicians, and parts of the UK industry. This move has raised doubts about the government’s commitment to climate goals.
During a news conference, Sunak emphasized that the UK is already a leader in transitioning to a green economy and argued that moving too fast could risk losing the support of the British people. He reassured the public that the government remains committed to reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, but in a “more proportionate way.”
The UK government has previously boasted about its achievements in cutting carbon emissions, with a 46% reduction from 1990 levels. This decrease has been largely attributed to the removal of coal from electricity generation. The government had pledged to reduce emissions by 68% of 1990 levels by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. However, experts have raised concerns about the slow pace of action.
Sunak’s decision to approve new oil and gas drilling in the North Sea in July further fueled criticism of the government’s commitment to climate goals. Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who introduced the 2030 ban on petrol cars, urged the government to maintain certainty about its net-zero commitments.
Greenpeace U.K. policy director Doug Parr accused Sunak of “taking the public for fools” and warned that the decision to backtrack on commitments to help people transition away from gas would perpetuate the country’s reliance on fossil fuels. Automakers, who have made significant investments in electric vehicles, also expressed frustration at the government’s change of plan.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, an industry body, questioned the government’s strategy and emphasized the need to shift towards sustainable transport. Ford U.K. head Lisa Brankin stated that the relaxation of the 2030 deadline would undermine the ambition, commitment, and consistency required from the government. Analyst Tara Clee of investment firm Hargreaves Lansdown warned that this retreat could harm Britain’s reputation for green technology leadership and pose a business risk.
The Conservative Party has been reevaluating its climate change promises following a special election result in July, which was seen as a rejection of a tax on polluting vehicles. Some party members believe that abandoning green policies could help secure victory in the upcoming national election.
However, Alok Sharma, the Conservative lawmaker who chaired the COP26 climate conference, warned that fracturing the political consensus on climate action would be detrimental. He emphasized that choosing this path would not be electorally beneficial for any political party.
The announcement of the delay comes as senior UK politicians and diplomats gather at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where climate issues are high on the agenda. Sunak, however, will not be attending and has sent his deputy instead.
More detail via Associated Press here… ( Image via Associated Press )