Rishi Sunak reviews UK climate targets, announces 'more pragmatic and realistic' policy

A year before the legislative elections and while King Charles III, a fervent defender of the environment, is visiting France, the British Prime Minister announced on Wednesday September 20 that he was slowing down the pace of the ecological transition in the United Kingdom

Rishi Sunak reviews UK climate targets, announces 'more pragmatic and realistic' policy

A year before the legislative elections and while King Charles III, a fervent defender of the environment, is visiting France, the British Prime Minister announced on Wednesday September 20 that he was slowing down the pace of the ecological transition in the United Kingdom. Rishi Sunak has said he wants to take a “more pragmatic, proportionate and realistic” approach to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

The end of the sale of gasoline or diesel cars will thus be postponed from 2030 to 2035, while the constraints for replacing old gas boilers will be relaxed, Mr. Sunak announced at a press conference. The Prime Minister, however, assured that the country “will respect international agreements”. He “expects” that by 2030 “the vast majority of cars” sold will be electric thanks to falling costs. “For now anyway, it should be you, the consumer, who makes the choice [to buy an electric vehicle] – not the government forcing you to do so. »

Green policies are marking time in the United Kingdom as the Conservatives, very low in the polls after twelve years in office, and Labor are sharpening their weapons in view of the legislative elections expected next year. By the end of July, Mr Sunak had already caused an uproar by promising hundreds of new oil and gas exploration and exploitation licenses in the North Sea.

Strong reactions from political and economic actors

On Tuesday evening, after leaks to the media, he had already suggested that the United Kingdom was preparing to review its policy concerning the objective of carbon neutrality to be achieved by 2050. He had declared that he would try to achieve carbon neutrality, but “in a better, more proportionate way”. “We are not going to save the planet by ruining the British people,” Interior Minister Suella Braverman also declared on Wednesday morning. “We remain absolutely committed to achieving the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050,” but with a “pragmatic” approach, she said.

Without waiting for the Prime Minister's speech, criticism multiplied on Wednesday morning, including in his own camp. “Rishi Sunak still has time to think and not make the biggest mistake of his mandate,” Chris Skidmore, a Conservative and former Secretary of State for Energy, responded to the PA agency. If confirmed, this decision “will cost the United Kingdom jobs, foreign investment”, according to him.

The economic community has also stepped up to the plate. The Association of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers and Sellers (SMMT) has called for "a clear and consistent message" from the government, deploring the "uncertainty" which only "slows down" motorists' desire to go electric, so that the auto industry “has invested and continues to invest billions in new electric vehicles.”

“Climate change laggard”

This decline goes against the grain of the government's efforts over several years to attract investment in automotive batteries to create electric car production "hubs" in the United Kingdom, crucial in the energy transition. The opposition Labor Party MP in charge of energy issues, Ed Miliband, also mocked a “farce on the part of a Conservative government which literally does not know what it is doing on a day to day basis”. .

The environmental association Greenpeace has criticized the government. “Under the Conservative government, the UK has gone from being a leader to being a laggard on climate change,” she criticized. “The new about-faces announced yesterday [Tuesday] evening will only accelerate the decline of our influence on the international scene. » The Sunak government appears to have initiated a U-turn on climate policy in July, after Labour's surprise defeat by the Conservatives in a local election in west London.

This result was attributed to voters' distrust of the extension of a tax on polluting vehicles to the whole of Greater London, or nine million inhabitants, and wanted by the Labor mayor, Sadiq Khan. According to a spring YouGov poll, 65% of Britons say they are worried about the consequences of climate change, but the majority oppose most measures that would require personal effort.