Government Advisers to Rishi Sunak: You’ve Put UK Climate Goals at Risk

LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has spent the week listening to the opposition Labour Party pull apart his green policies. Now another damning verdict has arrived — this time from his own climate advisers.

Sunak’s recent package of climate policy reforms “increase longer-term risks” that the U.K. will miss its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, according to the Climate Change Committee (CCC), with some changes making “net zero considerably harder to achieve.”

The CCC was established by the U.K. parliament in 2008 to provide independent advice to the government on climate policies.

Its analysis, published Thursday afternoon, is the CCC’s first intervention since the prime minister used a Downing Street speech last month to announce that the government was watering down a swathe of climate pledges, including a delay to phasing out combustion engine vehicles, lifting rules for improving energy efficiency in rental properties, and a slower transition to lower-emission heat pumps in people’s homes.

Dividing lines

The move was widely seen as a bid to woo cash-strapped voters and carve out clear dividing lines with Labour, which has doubled down on a more expansive plan for green spending ahead of the general election, expected next year.

But the CCC argues that relaxing climate targets, in addition to slowing U.K. progress towards net zero, is “likely to increase both energy bills and motoring costs” — a bullish claim directly contradicting Sunak’s central political argument that his reforms will save households money during a cost of living crisis. Electric vehicles will be “significantly cheaper than petrol and diesel vehicles to own and operate over their lifetimes,” the committee said, meaning that a slower transition to EVs “will ultimately increase costs.”

“We will still get to net zero by 2050,” Sunak told the Conservative Party conference at the start of this month. But his decision to exempt around a fifth of homes from plans to phase out sales of fossil fuel boilers by 2035 means it will now be “considerably harder” for the U.K. to meet that target, the CCC concluded.

And while moving the deadline for banning sales of new combustion engine cars from 2030 to 2035 will have only a “small direct impact” on future emissions, the committee found that the shift could undermine investor confidence because of “uncertainty” about the government’s long-term commitment to rolling out clean cars. 

“We remain concerned about the likelihood of achieving the U.K.’s future targets, especially the substantial policy gap to the U.K.’s [short-term] 2030 goal,” said Piers Forster, the CCC’s interim chair, who took over from former Environment Secretary John Gummer earlier this year.

One fifth of the necessary reductions needed to hit the U.K’s goal of reducing emissions by 68 percent by 2030 are covered by plans that the CCC currently deems “insufficient,” Forster said.


He added that the U.K.’s status as a climate leader has “come under renewed scrutiny following the prime minister’s speech,” and called for the government to “restate strong British leadership on climate change” in the run up to COP28 in November. 

His comments echo the committee’s damning report to parliament in June, which concluded that the U.K. had “lost its clear global leadership position” on climate change and was not on track to hit emissions targets.

The CCC praised some government progress on net zero policy, including support for electrification at Tata’s steelworks in Port Talbot in South Wales and plans to streamline the process for connecting projects to the electricity grid — but argued that weakening green goals elsewhere had “countered the positive progress” of such announcements.

A government spokesperson told POLITICO: “The U.K. remains a global leader on climate – cutting emissions faster than any other G7 country – so we are confident that we will meet our future carbon commitments, including net zero, just as we have over delivered on every carbon target to date.”



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