The UK’s Conservative Government Delays its Net Zero Pledges

  • UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delays ban on petrol and diesel cars to 2035, blaming financial concerns.
  • Major automotive investments and sustainability goals are now at risk.
  • Political figures, including Boris Johnson, express disappointment and emphasize the importance of the 2030 target for the automotive industry.

In a predicted, leaked, move, UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has delayed the country’s net-zero pledges on heat pumps and electric vehicles. 

In a public announcement at 16:30 on the 20th of September, Rishi Sunak officially announced a five-year delay in the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles. This shift means the ban, initially set for 2030, will now take effect in 2035.

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During his speech, Sunak blamed “short-sighted decisions” for the awkward position he finds himself in. In one breath, he applauded the UK for how far it has come, and how quickly it’s diminished its carbon emissions, and over-delivered on all of its promises. In the next breath, it’s impossible to keep our targets. 

He blames bankrupting the British people for this delay, which begs the question, where are the government’s EV subsidies to help just that? If these subsidies make the nation “reliant” on imported vehicles, then look no further than the US’ Inflation Reduction Act for your solution. According to Rishi Sunak, the answer is to hit pause. 

The decision has triggered significant concern among various stakeholders. That includes businesses, manufacturers, and organizations committed to sustainability, both within the UK and on the global stage.

The UK is set to receive massive investment in green infrastructure and facilities from some of the world’s premier emobility companies and manufacturers. This includes Tata’s Jaguar Land Rover Gigafactory, worth around £4 billion. Recently, BMW announced a £600 million investment in order to produce two new electric MINI models in the UK. Both of these major investments were drawn in no small part by the UK’s 2030 net zero deadline. 

Ford, one of the world’s most prominent automotive manufacturers, was in full support of the government’s original 2030 commitments. The company has already made substantial investments of £430 million in UK facilities and has solid plans for further significant financial injections, all aligned with the 2030 target. 

Lisa Brankin, Chair of Ford UK, shared these sombre words earlier today:

“This is the biggest industry transformation in over a century and the UK 2030 target is 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.”

The question remains to be answered: Now that the UK’s Conservative Government has indeed undermined Ford’s faith, where does that leave the nation’s prospects for sustainable industry? 

Throughout the day, other major figures from the worlds of politics and business have shared their views. 

Simon Clarke, Conservative MP and former Cabinet Minister, shared his concerns over the state of the UK’s green investments. He stated that th investments of major companies around the world, worth billions and promised on the proviso that the UK would hold true to their pledge, are now “in peril because of what feels like an unnecessary political misstep and a misreading of where people are on this issue”.

Former Prime Minister and advocate for the former 2030 net zero pledges, Boris Johnson, stated: “we cannot afford to falter now or in any way lose our ambition for this country”. He went on to explain:

“Business and industry – such as motor manufacturing – are rightly making vast investments in these new technologies. It is those investments that will produce a low carbon future – at lower costs for British families.”

This seems to fly in the face of the Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s excuse: “We’re not going to save the country by bankrupting the British people.”

Quentin Wilson, Founder of FairCharge, an EV campaign group, echoes these concerns, stating that pushing back our 2030 deadline could cost the country “billions in investment and thousands of jobs”.

The Automotive Industry

Automaker Stellantis, encompassing brands like Vauxhall, Fiat, Citroen, and Peugeot, remains steadfast in its commitment to achieving “100% zero emission new car and van sales in the UK and Europe by 2030.” However, they emphasize the necessity of obtaining “clarity” from the government regarding the path ahead. 

The AA, a prominent provider of breakdown cover services deeply involved in the motor industry, echoes Stellantis’ sentiment, characterizing the 2030 target as “ambitious but attainable.” They underscore the requirement for “enhanced support, particularly in terms of charging infrastructure,” to facilitate a smooth transition towards zero-emission vehicles.

Alfonso Martinez, Managing Director of ALD | LeasePlan UK states: 

“We urge the government to stay on track with its 2030 target and maintain the UK’s position as a leader in zero-emission technologies. Now more than ever, we need to demonstrate consistency and commitment to achieving environmental and sustainability goals. Pushing back timelines could send a confusing message to both businesses and consumers and hinder the ongoing efforts to decarbonise the mobility sector.

“For the past few years, we’ve been working in lockstep with the government’s ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles, helping UK businesses and public sector bodies prepare their drivers and decarbonise their fleets. The end results are always the same: once people make the switch to electric, they realise just how good these vehicles are – quieter, more economical, cleaner and cost effective.  

“I believe the UK has the potential to be a world leader in zero emission mobility – we currently sit at number 3 for Europe for EV maturity – just behind Norway and the Netherlands. A move like this will undermine the great progress made in clearing our air and reducing C02 emissions – and could set us back years, if not decades.”

What’s next?

As the UK shifts its approach to decarbonisation, the Conservative Government have promised that their next long, slow steps in this race against time will unfold over the coming months. 

We’ll keep following and listening, all the while hoping that Sunak’s new decarbonisation ideas somehow work even better than the much-accelerated plan we were already on. Let’s hope this is the approach of a man who, as he claims, cares about net zero, not the desperate ploys of a man who is in very real danger of losing an upcoming election.

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