On 20 September, Rishi Sunak announced that the government was torching a series of its climate policies. The millionaire prime minister demonstrated that his government is fully prepared to ditch the climate – and the millions of people vulnerable to its impacts – in favour of vested interests and Tory donors.
The government plans to pivot on everything from the end date for the sale petrol and diesel cars to housing energy efficiency measures. In 2020, former prime minister Boris Johnson declared a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. Fast-forward three years, and Sunak has now scrapped this target, pushing it back to 2035.
Meanwhile, he also announced that the government is watering down the phase-out of gas boilers and off-grid oil boilers. Previously, the plan was to halt the installation of all gas boilers in 2035. Now, the government is aiming for just 80% by the same date.
Unsurprisingly, Twitter was awash with searing criticism for the PM’s ill-thought-out move.
Sunak’s climate policy hypocrisy
On first glance, the prime minister’s announcement appeared to please very few people. Climate groups and campaigners, in particular, were understandably angry at the latest back-pedalling. Climate justice activist Mikaela Loach condemned the prime minister’s climate roll-back:
Horrifying that after another summer defined by apocalyptic wildfires & flooding in every corner of the globe, #RishiSunak is scrapping UK climate policies, making climate action a culture war. Climate justice centered action could make a better world. Sunak's making a worse one.
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— Mikaela Loach – It’s Not That Radical 📖 (@mikaelaloach) September 20, 2023
Extinction Rebellion highlighted the government’s political donations from polluting corporations in the context of the new announcement:
SHORT TERM DECISIONS
FOR A SHITTER FUTURE
…Remember, this govt took £3.5 million in donations from big oil & other polluting industries before licensing new gas & oil.
— Extinction Rebellion UK 🌍 (@XRebellionUK) September 20, 2023
Politicians from rival parties also lambasted the move. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas laid out the prime minister’s climate hypocrisy:
PM turning utter hypocrisy into a new art form. It’s “wrong to chase the short term headlines” he says, precisely as he does so. “I want to build a better future for our kids” exactly as he sets about trashing it. “I won’t take the easy way out” when he’s doing exactly that 🤦🏻♀️
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) September 21, 2023
Labour’s shadow minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, Ed Miliband, also joined in:
This is a complete farce from a Tory government that literally does not know what they are doing day to day.
13 years of failed energy policy has led to an energy bills crisis, weakened our energy security, lost jobs, and failed on the climate crisis.https://t.co/bEQeuXN4Wd
— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) September 19, 2023
Even some Conservatives were disappointed at the new pace for climate policies. Former environment minister Zac Goldsmith resigned from his position in June over the government’s “apathy” towards the climate crisis. He lamented the news that the government will water down its climate plan:
I have had 00s of messages from Cons friends in govt, Parliament & around the world telling me this move by the PM vindicates my decision to noisily resign.
I didn’t want vindication. I hoped it would add pressure on govt to prove me & others wrong.
We need an election. Now. https://t.co/9WTtG9c9dV
— Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) September 20, 2023
On top of this, the declaration even saw Sunak burn bridges with big businesses, too. The move brought together an unlikely alliance of over 400 non-profits and corporations like Nestle, IKEA, and EON in a open letter against the changes. Vehicle manufacturer Ford also published a statement criticising the government its new petrol and diesel car policy:
Angry statement from car company Ford UK pic.twitter.com/N1HqQrtfi5
— Sam Coates Sky (@SamCoatesSky) September 20, 2023
Cosying up to big oil and landlords
However, on the other side of the coin, some folks on Twitter commented on the Prime Minister’s cosy relationship with fossil fuel majors:
Rishi Sunak doesn't want to rip out your gas boiler because he wants you to remain dependent on the product of his friends – BP, Equinor, Shell etc.
He makes that very clear with his support for more oil and gas fields and tax breaks to the companies pursuing them. https://t.co/VrQKt5Qx8e
— Cllr Lana Reid-McConnell (@LanaRMc) September 20, 2023
And that’s not to mention that Sunak’s family interests in fossil fuel firms. Sunak’s father-in-law’s firm, Infosys, signed deals with fossil fuel majors BP and Shell just this year:
A reminder that Rishi Sunak's family's business Infosys boasts of its partnership with "two of the top five integrated oil and gas companies, three of the top four oilfield services providers, and five of the top 10 upstream enterprises across the oil and gas landscape.” pic.twitter.com/HMqUO577hR
— Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov) September 20, 2023
OpenDemocracy also entered the fray with a well-timed revelation. The site exposed how landlords had lobbied the government regarding energy efficiency targets which they said were “too ambitious” and would force them out of the rental market. Of course, property tycoons are also generous donors to the Conservative party.
‘Pragmatic’ move won’t save the planet, or the public purse
Sunak branded the about-turn as “pragmatic”, “proportionate”, and “realistic”, and claimed the new policies would “ease the financial burden” on the British taxpayer. Like many classic Conservative appeals to ‘grown-up’ politics, the ploy quickly fell apart under scrutiny. Labour’s Ed Miliband pointed out that the government’s own climate advisors had shown that delaying the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars would not, in fact, save the public purse:
If the government delays the petrol and diesel phase-out date to 2035 it will whack UP costs on British families. And here is the evidence from the Government's own advisors @theCCCuk 👇 pic.twitter.com/3iWCmggBWs
— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) September 20, 2023
Meanwhile, in 2022, an analysis by the Lib Dems suggested that upgrading homes with poor energy efficiency ratings could save households £9bn a year in energy bills. Moreover, the head of the International Energy Agency Fatih Birol has previously denounced the government’s “inexplicable” failure to prioritise energy efficiency measures.
The non-profit Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) has already crunched the numbers and estimated that Sunak’s new net zero changes alone could cost households up to £8bn.
Moreover, some of Sunak’s announcements were simply so outrageous that people couldn’t resist dragging him on social media. Greenpeace brought the fire with a string of blisteringly on-point climate memes:
— Greenpeace UK (@GreenpeaceUK) September 20, 2023
— Greenpeace UK (@GreenpeaceUK) September 20, 2023
Friends of the Earth also got in on the action:
— Friends of the Earth (@friends_earth) September 20, 2023
Others pointed out the sheer ludicrousy of Sunak’s pledges to scrap “heavy-handed” policies – which, in reality, don’t even exist:
I just feel like if you had achieved literally anything in government you wouldn’t have to pretend you’ve blocked some 7 bin mandate and legally-enforced car pools to win votes https://t.co/XlTF8cBSxB
— James Felton (@JimMFelton) September 20, 2023
Ultimately, Sunak’s new climate policy timeline is a boon for the big polluter elite and the landlord class. It’s cold homes, soaring energy bills, and climate disasters for the rest. Why let climate catastrophe get in the way of good old profit-making business-as-usual ‘pragmatism’? It’s not as if it’s the end of the world – at least not for the planet-wreckers like Sunak and the climate criminal Tory donors rich enough to weather the storm. Any lingering pretense of the government’s climate credentials now visibly lies in tatters for the whole world to see.
Feature image via Simon Dawson/ No 10 Downing Street/Wikimedia, cropped and resized to 1910 by 1000, licensed under CC BY 2.0
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