The UK’s climate policy backtrack is bad for the planet and the economy
Baroness Parminter, chair of the Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee, argues
Rishi Sunak’s “new approach” to Britain’s climate policy, including his delay to the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles, is bad for the planet, the car industry and the economy.
My select committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into electric vehicles and to date, we’ve held three oral evidence sessions with witnesses, including representatives of automotive manufacturers, trade associations, vehicle retailers, leasing companies and charge point operators. It is clear to me that the 2030 phase-out date was a key policy mechanism for providing certainty to the markets as they shift their operations towards producing electric vehicles and for demonstrating the United Kingdom’s leadership in delivering the net-zero transition.
This is not the first backsliding on the climate agenda from this government, with its support for granting more North Sea drilling licenses and a new coal mine. But this delay on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2035 means it is now unclear how the government can meet its legally binding target of reaching net-zero by 2050. Even before these latest announcements, the Committee on Climate Change’s 2023 Progress Report to Parliament highlighted that policy progress in the surface transport sector – the UK’s highest emitting sector – was insufficient.
This backtracking over the 2030 deadline is bad for Britain’s economy and competitiveness, even though the mandatory electric vehicle sales targets look likely to come into force next year. It exacerbates the general uncertainty and lack of trust in the government to stick to its commitments and leaves the car manufacturing industry – which has been amongst the biggest green investors as it faces the shift to electric vehicles – with a much more uncertain demand picture. As Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers, said “the concern is this does cause consumers to delay their purchase.”
The Prime Minister said that unless he changed direction “we risk losing the consent of the people”. Polls show people want to know how to play their part in tackling climate change and making greener choices, but at a time of a cost of living crisis, what they need to hear is the support to make those greener choices more affordable. On this, the Prime Minister was noticeably silent; indeed the government has cut significant electric vehicle purchase incentives. Last year, our committee recommended that the government must take steps to avoid placing a burden on those who can least afford changing to green technologies, services and products. Fiscal incentives need to go hand in hand with measures to accelerate charging infrastructure to give consumers the confidence to switch to electric vehicles.
“Government has the opportunity to seize the green transition to rekindle growth, spur innovation and create jobs”
The pace and scale of behaviour change necessary to meet our net-zero targets requires not a hastily arranged speech but a public net-zero engagement strategy; making it clear how low-carbon behaviours will be made more affordable, convenient and attractive. Government has the opportunity to seize the green transition to rekindle growth, spur innovation and create jobs. That is the net-zero leadership we need. If this government will not provide it, the next government will need to.
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