Skip to main content

Sunak's Speech: Is this a pause in the green revolution?

If something is too good to be true - can it ever be true? Well not according to Rishi Sunak in his resignation letter to Boris Johnson last year when he stated the following:

I firmly believe the public are ready to hear that truth. Our people know that if something is too good to be true then it’s not true. They need to know that whilst there is a path to a better future, it is not an easy one.

So the news from earlier this week that we were going to meet our net zero target by 2050 without putting in some of the hard work reminded me of the old adage that ‘if something is too good to be true, then it usually isn’t true’.

Rishi Sunak seemed to reverse the very ideas and core of Boris Johnson’s Green Revolution as we have already ‘over delivered’. All the statistics show we are no where near to meeting any target, but what did he say and why does it matter?

First it matters because if we are to create the jobs of the future in a thriving green economy we need to start now. We need to give investors and companies the opportunity to put structures, systems and R&D in place, but this will only be done if there is confidence in the product. So instead of following the USA’s and the EU’s lead on building new green infrastructure and giving investors confidence we appear are going in a different direction.

The announcement confirmed there is to be a delay on the ban of new diesel and petrol vehicles to 2035. This is slightly at odds with the manufacturers who have spent time and money working towards the 2030 target and could still be penalised if they fail to meet that goal. But also the majority of cars sold in this country is in the second-hand market and these will be predominately diesel and petrol for many years to come so it is arguably a regression of a policy which seemingly was working (see the new investment into electric car plants in recent weeks).

The phasing out of fossil fuel boilers is to be again, potentially damaging for an industry which saw confidence last year and which could quickly decarbonise the use of our homes. This is also mixed in with the scrapping of policies which would have seen the upgrade of energy efficiency of rented homes. To be clear, these homes are some of the poorest energy efficiency homes and which many low-income households occupy. There is an argument to say these buildings should be updated to provide better homes for the future.

There is a risk that the changes could dent confidence in the market and put new green jobs, a low carbon society and the green revolution in jeopardy. A report in the Guardian which quotes the chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, sums the situation up well:

Chris Stark, the chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, also suggested that Rishi Sunak was guilty of “wishful thinking” when he said the UK was on course to meet its climate change targets. Stark said:

Let’s look at where we are on this. In June we said the progress that we’ve seen recently on cutting emissions will not take us to the 2030 target. We’ve been cutting emissions by about 1% per year, outside of the power sector, the one sector we’ve been doing well. That needs to quadruple over the next eight years.

What has happened since then is that we’ve had a failed auction for offshore wind, and now a setback from some of the key policies that the prime minister. That is going to make it harder to hit the 2030 goal.

We’re going to go away and do the numbers on that. But the key thing is that those goals still remain. The prime minister recommitted to them.

So I would say that the wishful thinking here is that we have not got a policy package to hit the legal targets that this country has set in law through the Climate Change Act.

Asked if he was saying Sunak was guilty of wishful thinking, Stark replied:

I think the government needs to look again at the policies. We need to do more. There’s no real question of that. So, yesterday was not about doing more, it was about doing less.

I think the government needs to look again at the policies. We need to do more. There’s no real question of that. So, yesterday was not about doing more, it was about doing less.”