Car maker Ford has warned UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that pushing back a ban on combustion engine cars from 2030 to 2035 will undermine the country’s transition to electric vehicles (EVs).
“The UK 2030 target is a vital catalyst to accelerate Ford into a cleaner future,” Ford UK chair Lisa Brankin said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three,” she added.
The warning comes after BBC News revealed this week that Sunak is planning on walking back on several key climate action policies. On top of a delay to the combustion engine ban, the prime minister is also expected to push back, potentially by ten years, the current target to ban the installation of gas boilers by 2025 in favour of electric heat pumps.
Just two months ago, Sunak doubled down on the 2030 combustion engine ban after controversially approving more than 100 new oil and gas licences in the North Sea. When asked about the target to phase out petrol and diesel cars in an interview with BBC Scotland, he confirmed that the 2030 target still stands.
Backlash to the news has been widespread. Some high-profile members of parliament (MPs) from Sunak’s own Conservative Party have condemned plans to water down the country’s net-zero ambitions. Party frustration relating to Sunak’s commitment to green policies has grown steadily over the summer. At the beginning of this month, MPs, including those from the Conservative Party, planned to revolt if Sunak did not remove the de facto ban on onshore wind farms, claiming that unnecessary legislation has kept the industry stagnant for almost a decade.
Labour, the UK’s opposition party, has also lambasted the changes. Shadow Climate and Net Zero Secretary Ed Miliband has called Sunak “rattled, chaotic, and out of his depth” in a tweet responding to a statement released by Sunak late on Tuesday night.
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In his statement, Sunak emphasised the need for “realism” within the energy transition. He said: “Our politics must again put the long-term interests of our country before the short-term political needs of the moment.”
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has supported Sunak’s plans. In an interview with BBC Radio 4, she said that climate goals should remain as “goals, not strait jackets,” suggesting that the 2030 combustion engine ban, among other climate targets, is “arbitrary” and “punitive”.
Braverman also stressed that the U-turns will avoid “bankrupting the British people”. Analysis from the government’s climate advisory body, the Climate Change Committee, found that a transition to EVs by 2030 will likely be “cost-saving from a social perspective during the 2020s”. It also found that an earlier phase-out of combustion engine cars will provide £6bn ($7.44bn) in additional cost-savings between 2020 and 2050, compared with a ban set for 2035.
There is the suggestion that Sunak’s U-turn, which the Guardian has dubbed “one of the biggest of his premiership” if the leaks are accurate, is an attempt to gain voter support from anti-climate fringes of the electorate ahead of the general election next year. Conservative MP Simon Clarke has warned that the move will ultimately put voters off.
Speaking at the G20 summit in India held earlier this month, Sunak said that the UK’s climate policies provide “the kind of leadership that the world rightly expects”, although he has entirely missed the UN General Assembly this week in New York. Sunak cited scheduling conflicts when announcing his absence, but a report from the Guardian published last week found that the Prime Minister had been warned about potential rejection from climate talks because the UK’s climate policies are weak.
Sunak will give an official update on the government’s net-zero plans later this afternoon. It was reported that he is holding an emergency cabinet meeting over the proposed changes after the BBC’s leak sparked panic.