Sunak says UK can still meet 2050 net zero goals, despite "wishful thinking" of climate rollback

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has insisted the UK will still meet its net zero goal by 2050, despite his decision to extend the timeframes on a range of measures designed to cut emissions.

Facing scathing opposition from environmental groups, as well as some within his own party, he came out to defend his watering down of the UK’s net zero policy, saying the UK was “absolutely not slowing down” efforts to combat climate change.

He also defended his reference to several ‘straw man' policies. During his Downing Street speech, Mr Sunak said the Government was scrapping a ban on eating meat, scrapping the introduction of seven bins, and scrapping compulsory car sharing – despite none of those ever being Government policy in the first place.

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On this, former environment minister Lord Goldsmith accused him of “pretending to halt frightening proposals that simply do not exist”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gestures during a visit to Writtle University College near Chelmsford, Essex.Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gestures during a visit to Writtle University College near Chelmsford, Essex.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gestures during a visit to Writtle University College near Chelmsford, Essex.

But in a rare interview on Radio 4’s today programme yesterday, Mr Sunak said: “I reject that entirely.”

“These are all things that have been raised by very credible people about ways to meet our net zero obligations,” he said, but was unable to provide evidence they were specifically recommended by anyone.

He cited the Climate Change Committee as the source of general proposals to curb meat consumption, although it never recommended a so-called “meat tax”.

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The chief executive of the committee, Chris Stark, described them as “straw men suggestions”, saying: “He seemed to be cancelling a set of policies that the Government hadn’t announced, which is, I suppose, a political technique.”

He also refuted the Prime Minister’s assertion that the country was on a path to meet its targets.

“It’s difficult to escape the idea that we’ve moved backwards from where we were when we did our last assessment of progress … in June,” Mr Stark said.

Even then, the independent body that advises governments on reducing emissions warned the UK was not on track to meet 2030 targets.

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“It looks like those goals will be even harder to hit with this softer package now around climate policy,” its chief said.

“The key thing is that those goals still remain, the Prime Minister recommitted to them. So I would say that the wishful thinking here is that we have not got a policy package to hit the legal targets that this country has set in law through the Climate Change Act.”

Mr Sunak shrugged off suggestions he was not listening to the Climate Change Committee and emulating his predecessor Liz Truss by ignoring expert advice he did not want to hear.

“I’m very happy to get opinions and advice from everybody and everyone’s entitled to their view,” he said.

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“For those who disagree with me, and there are plenty of people as we can see over the last day or two, lots of people who disagree with me, the questions for them, they should explain to the country why they think it’s right that ordinary families up and down the country should have to fork out five, 10, £15,000 to make the transition earlier than is necessary.”

Mr Sunak also brushed off the Commons Speaker’s criticism of his climate announcement not being made to MPs.

Asked about Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s denunciation of the “major policy shift” being made as the Commons was closed for the conference recess, the Prime Minister told reporters on a visit to Essex that he would be “undeterred” by resistance to his plans.

He spoke to broadcasters at an agricultural college yesterday morning, with sheep bleating in the background, to highlight that his changes were “particularly important for our rural and farming communities who were facing huge costs and are the backbone of our local economies”.

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Pressed on the prospect of legal challenges over his plans, he said he had “absolute confidence and belief” the UK will hit its targets, having “consistently over-delivered in all our previous carbon budgets”.

He said: “We are absolutely not slowing down efforts to combat climate change. I am very proud of our country’s leadership.”

He dismissed a backlash from the car industry, after Ford warned that delaying the ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles would “undermine” its needs for “ambition, commitment, and consistency” from the Government.

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