The UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, today delivered an impassioned speech outlining a ‘new approach to achieving net zero’ which has been widely anticipated to be ‘watering down’ the commitments, many of which were made by the Conservative Government under different leadership.

Whilst it is always disappointing to hear politicians back tracking on commitments which were made to combat climate change, it was difficult not to understand the reasons given and to agree with the underlying message that if we want to see changes in behaviours, choices rather than demands often see the biggest impacts.

The policy changes include:

  • Delaying the ban on new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035.
  • Enabling the continued sale of second-hand cars after 2035.
  • No enforced energy efficiencies in homes.
  • No new taxes on air travel and meat products or enforced recycling in homes.
  • The weakening of the commitment to phase out gas boiler installations by 2035.
  • No enforced replacement of household boilers for heat-pumps.

Mr Sunak also announced that the grant currently available under the Boiler Upgrade Scheme for households installing Air Source Heat Pumps will be increased to £7,500 – an increase of 50% – to facilitate choice. Reforms were also pledged to the planning path for new energy grid infrastructure will be made alongside a new ‘spatial plan’ to give certainty to industry and allow communities a voice.

The PM’s  message was clear – it is all about choices. Whilst laws and policies demand change. The Government believes that allowing organisations and individuals the opportunity to do the right thing will facilitate the necessary impacts without forcing those who cannot afford to make changes to do so. At a time when the cost of living is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, adding additional financial pressure diverts focus from the need to reduce emissions. If we are to achieve the scale of change required to meet the UK targets, this cannot happen. The two requirements need to be better aligned and the benefit needs to be felt both financially and socially.

Driving change through legislation with indirect negative consequences creates thoughts of how to circumvent what is being demanded. Changing mindsets through education, opportunity and reward drives a desire to do better which can transform behaviours and in turn influence new technologies.  So, under the shadow cast by the cost-of-living crisis across companies and individuals, making demands that will create financial burdens is not clearly the right way to go. That said, without the right education, opportunity and reward, the Government’s plan to afford choices may well backfire.

The financial impact of the change in direction will be well received by the electorate but it is unlikely that Mr Sunak will be in post to answer for its successes or failures, so it is only right that his motives are questioned. The Prime Minister was very clear that the UK international climate change targets set in the Paris and Glasgow COP Summits remain unchanged. We can only wait and see if his new direction will deliver the required results.

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