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Emissions targets harder to reach after PM rollback on fossil fuel cars and boilers – CCC

The independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) was responding to the prime minister’s announcement last month (20 September 2023) that the ban on new petrol and diesel cars and gas boilers would be postponed until 2035. He also scrapped a requirement to improve energy efficiency in rented homes.

In an assessment of how the changes would affect emissions targets, the CCC said:

[these developments] “have made meeting future targets harder through both the direct impacts of reduced policy ambition and through the Government’s indication that it will loosen certain Net Zero policies”.

The CCC also said it was “unhelpful” that the prime minister’s announcement failed to provide estimates of the effect of his announcements on emissions or evidence to support the claim that UK targets would still be met.

The CCC’s chair, Professor Piers Forster, said:

“We remain concerned about the likelihood of achieving the UK’s future targets, especially the substantial policy gap to the UK’s 2030 goal.

“Around a fifth of the required emissions reductions to 2030 are covered by plans that we assess as insufficient.

“Recent policy announcements were not accompanied by estimates of their effect on future emissions, nor evidence to back the Government’s assurance that the UK’s targets will still be met.

“We urge the Government to adopt greater transparency in updating its analysis at the time of major announcements.”

Friends of the Earth said the CCC’s assessment revealed “glaring inconsistencies between the government’s rhetoric and action” (see Reaction for full quote).

The CCC welcomed the implementation next year of the zero emission vehicle mandate, which requires an increasing proportion of new car and van sales to be electric. It also welcomed a deal with Tata for the industrial electrification of the Port Talbot steel plant.

But it said:

“the Prime Minister has also relaxed important policies to decarbonise buildings and transport and sent a message to business and the international audience that he will allow more time for the UK to transition to key clean technologies. These steps have countered the positive progress of other announcements.”

In September, Rishi Sunak committed to meet the UK’s target, agreed with the UN, to reduce emissions by 68% by 2030.

But the CCC said the prime minister’s announcement had led to “renewed scrutiny” of the UK’s position as a global climate leader. It said:

“We urge the Government to restate strong British leadership on climate change in the crucial period before the next climate summit, COP28 in Dubai.”

The CCC’s progress report to parliament in June 2023 showed that the UK was not on track to meet this target, known as the nationally determined contribution or NDC.

Today, it said a 2035 date for new fossil boilers was “potentially compatible” with net zero emissions by 2050. But on the exemption of 20% of households from the phase-out, the CCC said:

[this] “will have an impact on emissions all the way out to 2050 making Net Zero considerably harder to achieve.

“Most importantly, it creates widespread uncertainty for consumers and supply chains. Although the grant for heat pumps was increased from £5,000 to £7,500 it has not been accompanied by a larger budget and will, therefore, serve fewer homes.”

The CCC said the delay to banning new fossil fuel car sales to 2035 was “expected to have only a small direct impact on future emissions” because of the zero emissions vehicle mandate.

But it added:

“The risk is that the public and automotive companies perceive a weakening of government commitment to the electric vehicle transition, which could undermine consumer confidence and/or jeopardise some inward investment relating to EV manufacturing.”

The CCC added that the prime minister’s announcement could increase costs to the public:

“Electric vehicles will be significantly cheaper than petrol and diesel vehicles to own and operate over their lifetimes, so any undermining of their roll-out will ultimately increase costs. The cancellation of regulations on the private-rented sector will lead to higher household energy bills.”

It also said the government’s new messaging around net zero risked “undermining consumer confidence and the development of UK supply chains, which are particularly important for delivery of buildings decarbonisation”.

Friends of the Earth’s climate campaigner, Danny Gross, said:

“This assessment highlights the glaring inconsistencies between the government’s rhetoric and action.

“Rishi Sunak has said he will honour his commitment, made at the COP27 climate talks in Egypt, to cut the UK’s carbon emissions by over two-thirds by 2030. His climate advisors are telling him loud and clear that his plans just don’t add up and the target will be missed.

“Instead, the Prime Minister is scrapping policies that would reduce harmful emissions and cut sky-high energy bills. A government of integrity, wouldn’t be trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes by pretending it can deliver on promises with a climate plan that’s just not up to scratch.”

A legal challenge by Friends of the Earth to the government’s net zero plan, known as the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan, is due to be heard at the High Court in February 2024.

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