U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to the media during his visit to Shell St Fergus Gas Plant in Peterhead on July 31, 2023 in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
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LONDON — U.K.-based industry bodies and automakers on Wednesday criticized British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, amid reports that he is preparing to dilute several key net-zero climate pledges.
The BBC reported the moves could include pushing back bans on sales of new petrol and diesel cars, currently set to happen by 2030, and on a prohibition on new gas boilers slated for 2035.
Sunak is expected to give a speech on the topic at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
A press representative for the prime minister’s office declined to comment on the BBC report.
Lisa Brankin, chair of Ford UK — which has committed to making the U.K. its European electric vehicle component manufacturing hub — said the 2030 target was a “vital catalyst to accelerate Ford into a cleaner future.”
“Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three,” Brankin said.
“We need the policy focus trained on bolstering the EV market in the short term and supporting consumers while headwinds are strong: infrastructure remains immature, tariffs loom and cost-of-living is high.”
The objective covering petrol and diesel car sales was announced in 2020, as part of a broader target to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Stellantis, which opened the U.K.’s first EV-only manufacturing plant earlier this month, also called for clarity.
“For too many years politicians in governments of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade-offs. Instead they have taken the easy way out, saying we can have it all,” Sunak said in a Tuesday statement.
“This realism doesn’t mean losing our ambition or abandoning our commitments. Far from it. I am proud that Britain is leading the world on climate change.”
“No leak will stop me beginning the process of telling the country how and why we need to change,” Sunak said.
He also said he remained committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said the auto industry needed the government to provide a “clear, consistent message, attractive incentives and charging infrastructure that gives confidence rather than anxiety.”
Ministers have suggested for some months that the government is considering watering down green policies that it considers may come at an upfront cost to households.
The ruling Conservative Party is lagging behind rival Labour in polls ahead of next year’s expected national election.
Several members of Sunak’s own party oppose any weakening of green targets, with member of parliament Chris Skidmore on Tuesday telling the BBC it was “potentially the greatest mistake of [Sunak’s]premiership so far.”
However, interior minister Suella Braverman on Wednesday insisted in broadcast comments that the prime minister’s approach to green policies was “pragmatic.”
The BBC report suggests other changes could include a commitment to no new energy efficiency regulations on homes and no new taxes to discourage flying.
On the long term, weakening the UK climate policies “could hurt economic growth by undermining domestic and overseas investment in a range of sectors that are developing and deploying clean technologies, such as heat pumps and electric vehicles. And it could make UK households poorer and colder because they will remain highly exposed to volatile fossil fuel prices,” said Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
Criticism also came from the energy industry, with Chris Hewett, head of trade association Solar Energy UK, saying the moves would be an “economic misjudgement of historic proportions,” as businesses in the U.S., China, EU and India race to lead in the fields of renewable energy and electric vehicles.