- By Henry Zeffman, Chris Mason and Brian Wheeler
- bbc news
Rishi Sunak is considering weakening some of the government’s key green commitments in a major policy change.
It could include delaying the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars and phasing out gas boilers, several sources have told the BBC.
The Prime Minister is set to outline the changes in a speech in the coming days.
Responding to the reported plans, he said the government was committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but in a “more proportionate way”.
The goal of net zero is for the UK to remove as many greenhouse gas emissions – such as carbon dioxide – from the atmosphere as it emits.
The Prime Minister said: “For many years, government politicians of all stripes have not been honest about the costs and trade-offs. Instead, they have taken the easy way out, saying we can have it all.
“This realism does not mean losing our ambition or abandoning our commitments. Far from it.
“I am proud that Britain is leading the world on climate change.”
He said the UK was committed to the international climate agreements it had already signed.
“No leak will stop me from starting the process of telling the country how and why we need to change,” he said.
Sunak added that he would give a speech later this week “to set out an important long-term decision we must make if our country is to become the place I know we all want it to be for our children.”
If it goes ahead with the plan, it would represent a significant change in the Conservative Party’s approach to net zero policy, as well as establishing a clear dividing line with the Labor Party.
According to multiple sources briefed on Downing Street thinking, Sunak would use the speech to hail the UK as a world leader in net zero emissions.
But I would also argue that Britain has gone too far in the fight against climate change and that other countries need to do more to play their part.
Some specific details of the speech are still believed to be being debated, but as it stands it could include up to seven key policy changes or commitments, documents seen by the BBC suggest.
Firstly, the government would delay the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, currently set to come into force in 2030, until 2035. The 2030 date has been government policy since 2020.
Secondly, the government would significantly weaken the plan to phase out the installation of gas boilers by 2035, saying it only wants 80% to be phased out by that year.
Third, homeowners and landlords would be informed that there will be no new energy efficiency regulations in homes. Ministers have been considering imposing fines on homeowners who do not upgrade their properties to a certain level of energy efficiency.
Fourth, the 2026 ban on insulated oil boilers will be delayed until 2035, with a phase-out target of just 80% by that date.
Furthermore, Britons will be told that there will be no new taxes to discourage air travel, no government policies to change people’s diets, and no measures to encourage car-sharing.
Sunak is also likely to rule out what he sees as onerous recycling schemes.
A Labor spokesman said: “This is a total travesty. The country cannot continue with a Conservative government in total disarray, stumbling from crisis to crisis.
“Ministers urgently need to clarify the eight policies reported to be subject to review.”
Conservative MP Chris Skidmore, former chair of the UK government’s net zero review, said watering down green policies “would cost the UK jobs, inward investment and future economic growth that could have been ours if we committed to the industries of the future”.
“Rishi Sunak still has time to think again and not make the biggest mistake of his mandate, condemning the UK to miss what may be the opportunity of the decade to deliver growth, jobs and future prosperity,” he said.
His Conservative peer Lord Zac Goldsmith, who resigned as minister earlier this year With a scathing attack on Mr Sunak’s “apathy” on climate change, he said the prime minister was “dismantling” the UK’s credibility on environmental issues.
“His brief period as Prime Minister will be remembered as the moment the UK turned its back on the world and future generations. A moment of shame,” he said.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas called any rollback from net zero “economically illiterate, historically inaccurate and environmentally foolish”.
But Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay, who chairs the net zero scrutiny group, said he was “pleased to see some pragmatism” from Sunak.
Moving back the dates for net zero targets “will take the sky out of ‘greenwashing’ measures of clearly unattainable deadlines.”
Former Conservative minister David Jones said changing green policies was “inevitable and sensible”, adding that pushing ahead with the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars would “seriously damage the British car industry”.
On Thursday, the King will make a state visit to France, where he will host the Climate Mobilization Forum.
The event brings together climate finance specialists and aims to help developing economies make adjustments to reduce emissions.
The King will be accompanied by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, James Cleverly.