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Is Net Zero Under Threat?

Taking a leaf out of his predecessor’s book, the Prime Minister announced another U-turn

Protestors outside parliament. Someone dressed as Rishi Sunak holds up a sign saying delay action to keep us very wealthy
Author: Samuel Beckingham
Updated: Sep 27, 2023
5 minutes read

Last week, Rishi Sunak scaled back targets for net zero while the government wasn’t in session. Without debate or general discussion, he has single-handedly watered down environmental targets and policies in the guise of ensuring unfair costs aren’t passed onto the general public. Not even the Climate Change Committee (CCC) was consulted prior to this talk.

What Happened?

On Tuesday 19th September, Rishi Sunak made an announcement ahead of the planned speech on Friday. Rumours were flying about that the petrol and diesel car ban was going to be pushed back, so the Prime Minister made the announcement early.

He announced:

  • Petrol and diesel car ban moved from 2030 to 2035

  • Ban on oil, LPG and new coal heating for off-gas-grid homes pushed back from 2026 to 2035

  • Minimum energy efficiency standards for rental properties scrapped

  • Energy infrastructure fast lane for nationally significant projects

Talking about how the long term effects of climate targets need to be put before political decisions, he announced a five year delay to the ban of new petrol and diesel vehicles. Alongside this, the gas boiler ban was also pushed back and the grants for low carbon alternatives increased. The increased grants will be available for heat pumps from the end of October.

Why Were These Measures Scaled Back?

If you ask Rishi Sunak, he will tell you that delaying the move to EVs and heat pumps will help households across the UK not to be impacted by high financial costs. If you ask industry experts and environmentalists, they will be bewildered by the decision.

The speech highlighted the progress the UK has made towards reducing emissions, but it then stopped short of accelerating this. The CCC warned that net zero commitments had already started to slow down and that the country was in trouble of meeting its 2030 and 2035 legal targets.

Speech Reaction

High Costs

Many experts have been quick to point out that no one is being forced to adopt any of the low carbon technology on the market right now. The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) has refuted the Prime Minister’s claim that households are being faced with costs from £5,000–£15,000. The gas boiler ban isn’t in place yet, so no one is being pushed to pay these high costs. Even when the gas boiler ban comes into effect, it will only affect new builds and if your current gas boiler needs to be replaced.

A lot of progress has also been made into hydrogen-ready boilers, which work on a mix of natural gas and hydrogen gas. Existing pipework will be able to take the load of this, which might then become an option in future to save families from paying the cost of low carbon alternative heating methods.

The other point to bear in mind is that anyone looking to change to low carbon technologies can receive government funding to do so. Currently, the Boiler Upgrade Scheme offers households £5,000 off an air source heat pump or a biomass boiler or £6,000 off a ground source heat pump. At the end of October, this will be raised to £6,000 for air source heat pumps and £7,500 for ground source heat pumps.

Electric Vehicles

With the push for EVs falling back to 2035, car manufacturers have been a mixture of furious and frustrated. Most car makers have agreed that sending mixed messages will do nothing but hinder the development of electric vehicles. Others have simply acted as though the announcement never took place. With plans for the decade already in motion to ramp up the production and scale of EVs, they will carry on as they were.

Most importantly, second hand cars can still be driven after the ban is implemented. There is no onus to remove them all from the roads. The price parity with traditional petrol and diesel cars is slowly coming with EVs. If you’re interested in purchasing one, you might be interested to know that charging it at home is the cheapest way of doing so. Find out about home EV chargers.

A Step Back for Progress

Piers Forster, Chair of the CCC, has stressed that these announcements move the UK further away from its net zero goals. Professor Miles Allen, from the University of Oxford, expressed how it would be more difficult to hit targets now. Peter Chalkley, Director of the ECIU, said that these changes will add to the cost of living, having the opposite effect Sunak stressed.

A worrying analysis from the ECIU suggested that the scaling back of net zero targets could cost households £8 billion more in bills over the next 10 years. If gas prices spike again (as they are prone to), this cost will be even higher. This figure emphasises the need for energy efficiency regulations for the private rental sector. By creating substandard living conditions for renters, many households will be much worse off.

What’s the Cost of Net Zero?

The CCC has previously estimated that the transition towards the 2050 legally binding target of net zero will cost an extra £50 billion of investment every year by 2030. In their estimates, once the reduction in fossil fuels is factored in, the savings will reduce the cost of transition to less than 1% of total GDP over the next 30 years.

By 2044, providing enough renewable or cleaner technologies have been adopted, the transition will become cost-effective. The mass use of renewables and low carbon technology will be more efficient that fossil fuels. By delaying the transition, scientists have stressed that the ultimate cost of achieving net zero will be even higher.

Reduce Your Bills

Frustrated by the decisions of Rishi Sunak? Why not start reducing your bills early with advice and help on insulation, double glazing, an energy efficient boiler or a heat pump? See how much you’d pay for solar panels by clicking on the button below.