Justin Tallis Agence France-Presse The British Prime Minister announced on Wednesday the postponement of several measures of the Kingdom's climate policy -United.
Marie Heuclin – Agence France-Presse and Caroline Taix – Agence France-Presse in London
September 21, 2023
A “realistic” brake: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced on Wednesday the postponement of several key measures of the United Kingdom's climate policy, a decision denounced as electoralist and condemned in economic circles and even within the Conservatives in power.
“I am confident that we can take a more pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach to achieving carbon neutrality, which lessens the burden on workers,” Rishi Sunak told a hastily arranged press conference after his intentions were leaked to the media.
The most emblematic announcement concerns new cars running on petrol and diesel, which will now be banned from sale in 2035 and not in 2030. A measure which “aligns” the United Kingdom with the timetable of other countries like the EU, defended Rishi Sunak, faced with the outcry in the automotive sector.
He also announced the relaxation of the conditions for the gradual elimination of gas boilers and the abandonment of a measure on the energy efficiency of housing which provided for strong constraints on owners.
The United Kingdom's climate ambitions, which aim for carbon neutrality in 2050, seem to be paying the price for the purchasing power crisis affecting the British and its possible electoral repercussions for the Conservative Party.
In power for 13 years, he is now struggling in the polls against Labor, with a view to the legislative elections expected next year, and some within him have long called on the government to scale back on environmental matters.
At the end of July, Rishi Sunak had already caused an uproar by promising hundreds of new licenses for the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons in the North Sea.
This new turnaround comes as the independent body responsible for to advise Downing Street on its climate policies had deplored in June the “worrying slowness” of the transition in the country.
“Act of weakness”
This announcement delighted the right wing of the Conservatives, such as former Prime Minister Liz Truss who “welcomed” the measures “particularly important for rural areas”.
But criticism has multiplied, including in his own camp, foreshadowing heated debates among the Tories where many appear to have been taken by surprise.
“We cannot afford to falter now or lose in any way our ambition for this country,” insisted former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who set many of the abandoned targets.
“I really don't believe that it would help any party electorally to decide to go down this path,” said Conservative MP Alok Sharma and president of COP26 in Glasgow in 2021.
The opposition Labor Party MP in charge of Energy issues, Ed Miliband, mocked an “act of weakness by a directionless, desperate Prime Minister”. And Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said the UK “finds itself at the back of the line as the rest of the world struggles to adopt the industries of tomorrow.”
The economic community has thus stepped up to the plate. The association representing the manufacturing industry, Make UK, protested against “an announcement which sends a completely wrong signal” while the boss of Ford in the United Kingdom denounced a decision which goes “against” “ambition, commitment and consistency” expected by the automotive sector.
More conciliatory, the organization which represents the powerful City of London emphasizes that Downing Street is right “to explore ways of providing solutions in a budgetary constrained environment”.
These announcements are “a giant scam against the country”, also denounced the NGO Greenpeace in a press release, castigating the “incessant reversals of this government which will scare away investors and cost jobs”.
The Sunak government appears to have begun a shift in July on climate policy, after the Conservatives' surprise victory in a local election in west London, attributed to voter distrust of the extension of a tax on polluting vehicles by the Labor mayor Sadiq Khan.
From New York where he attended the United Nations General Assembly, the latter estimated that “businesses and millions of people are disappointed” by the direction taken by the government Sunak.