Rishi Sunak’s commitment to ‘long-term interests’ is anything but the case

– Sam Stephenson – 21st September 2023

The Prime Minister’s announcement to cut green policies means we won’t be meeting our climate targets – sacrificing our planetary and economic health for no real benefit.

The UK is not on track to meet its current climate targets and the lack of implementation and gaps within the Net Zero Strategy make this abundantly clear. The challenge of meeting these targets has been evident for a while too. In 2021 our work (Minus 45) highlighted the level of change needed to meet our 2030 targets; a level of change the Conservatives were never going to to implement.

Nevertheless, the announcements today show fundamentally that this government is not serious about any sort of action on climate change. The roll-back on the phase out of new petrol/diesel car sales, while changing very little for the consumers, signals to businesses looking to invest how flippant we are about any green transition, with companies such as Ford acknowledging this:

“Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.”

The Prime Minister’s lack of commitment to ‘long-term solutions’ or support for working people is thrown into even sharper focus by the reality of these policies. The poorest in our society are much less likely to buy a new car, or own a car altogether[1], while landlords are protected from needing to insulate their properties at the expense of renters.

Moreover – despite claims to the contrary – rather than aligning our actions with that of other countries, we are actively scaring away investment in green technology (just look at Ford) at a time when everyone else is trying to attract them. The EU’s slightly freaked response to the US’s Inflation Reduction Act shows that everyone knows which way the technology is going except for Sunak and his ‘long-term interests’.

Now the real long-term picture for UK decarbonisation. This announcement comes two weeks after news that the UK’s latest round of CfD’s[2] failed to attract a single investor in offshore wind power, resulting in a 5GW shortfall in expected renewable energy capacity this decade. The rising cost of energy (including renewables), due to inflation along with higher interest rates, makes the financing and delivery of large-scale energy infrastructure increasingly difficult. The same is true for other techno-optimistic responses to decarbonisation such as hydrogen and carbon capture.

As these technologies continue to fail, greater importance will need to be placed on other approaches to decarbonisation, including systemic and behaviour change (targeted at those causing the most emissions – the wealthy). The ironic reality is that, while this announcement demonstrates the Prime Minister’s hatred for state intervention, this shift will make state intervention increasingly likely in the future.

To end on a slightly happier note however, the changes that real solutions would bring has the potential to provide significant societal benefits if done correctly; from saving us money on our energy bills, to easing the burden on the NHS, to reducing inequality. However, while increasingly necessary given the pressures of time and economic conditions, the chances these are implemented with this parliament remain vanishingly small.

[1] Based on ONS data

[2] Contracts for Differences – The UK’s primary mechanism for attracting investment in renewable energy

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