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Rishi Sunak’s rollback on net zero pledges is likely to leave Britons with higher bills and make it harder to for the UK to hit legally binding environmental targets, the government’s independent climate adviser has warned.
The prime minister announced a series of U-turns on Britain’s green ambitions last month, including delaying a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars to 2035, the phaseout of fossil fuel boilers and dumping energy efficiency rules for landlords.
In its first assessment of the UK’s climate commitments since Sunak’s announcement, the Climate Change Committee on Thursday said Britain had a credible plan for only 28 per cent of emissions cuts needed to hit its 2030 carbon reduction target.
This number would have been 31 per cent without the recent policy rollback, the government’s independent advisory board said.
Piers Forster, CCC chair, said the committee was “concerned about the likelihood of achieving the UK’s future targets [to cut emissions], especially the substantial policy gap” in reaching the 2030 goal.
The CCC added that changes to some net zero measures were “likely to increase both energy bills and motoring costs for households”.
Electric vehicles will be “significantly cheaper” than petrol and diesel vehicles to own and operate over their lifetimes, which means that “undermining . . . their rollout will ultimately increase costs”.
Most countries have committed to a zero greenhouse gas emissions targets by mid-century to tackle the threat of global climate change, with 2023 on course to be the hottest year on record.
Sunak has stressed the UK remains committed to its net zero 2050 target and has justified the policy overhaul by arguing the country has made strong progress in cutting emissions compared with global peers.
The committee noted there had been “real and tangible policy progress” since its last assessment in June, when it warned the UK was not on track to meet its aim of a 68 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 compared with 1990.
The CCC also welcomed the government’s decision to set annual targets for electric vehicle car sales, and the recent deal with Tata Steel for the electrification of the Port Talbot steelworks.
But Forster said the UK’s position as a “global leader on climate has come under renewed scrutiny” and that Sunak’s recent shift in policy had made “meeting future targets harder”.
The committee also flagged key areas of concern, including the delay and inclusion of exemptions in a scheme to phase out fossil fuel boilers.
Jess Ralston, head of energy at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think-tank, warned that changes to the boiler phaseout plan had sowed “seeds of confusion [ . . .] not only with homeowners but with investors”.
The CCC highlighted the absence of bids from offshore wind developers to the government’s latest annual auction of subsidy contracts for renewable energy projects, saying offshore wind was “essential” to meeting net zero targets.
Forster said Sunak had “sent a message to business and the international audience that he will allow more time for the UK to transition to key clean technologies”.
He added that these steps had “countered the positive progress of other announcements”.
The British government insisted the UK was still a “global leader on climate”, having cut emissions faster than any other G7 country.
“We are confident that we will meet our future carbon commitments, including net zero, just as we have over-delivered on every carbon target to date,” a spokesperson said.
“We are taking a fairer and more pragmatic approach to meeting net zero that eases burdens on families — saving households up to £15,000 on upfront costs to upgrade their homes.”
The spokesperson said the government would continue to meet international commitments under the Paris Agreement by “embracing the opportunities of clean industries” while protecting national security and cutting energy bills in the long term.