Sunak’s net zero delays ‘likely’ to put the UK at risk of missing its legal targets

Prime minister Rishi Sunak’s net zero plans are ‘likely to take the UK further away from being able to meet its legal commitments’, the Climate Change Committee has warned.

Yesterday, prime minister Rishi Sunak announced a number of row-backs on policies put in place to achieve the government’s legally binding net zero targets. 

This includes a delay to the ban on new diesel and petrol cars and also plans to delay the phasing out of gas boilers, with both plans set with  new deadlines of  2035.

Piers Forster, interim chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) – which is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008 to advise the government on emissions targets – said that the announcement is “likely to take the UK further away from being able to meet its legal commitments”. 

The government has made a legally binding commitment to ensure that the UK reduces its greenhouse gas emissions by 100% from 1990 levels by 2050, and has interim targets to reduce emissions by 68% by 2030, and 78% by 2035.

In its most recent assessment of the progress the government has made towards those targets, the CCC was less confident in the government’s ability to deliver its interim commitments than a year previously. 

“We need to go away and do the calculations, but today’s announcement is likely to take the UK further away from being able to meet its legal commitments,” Forster said, adding that ”this, coupled with the recent unsuccessful offshore wind auction, gives us concern”.

No offshore wind farms were bid for in the UK’s contracts for difference (CfD) renewables auction this month. 

“More action is needed and we await the government’s new plan for meeting their targets and look forward to receiving their response to our Progress Report, expected at the end of October,” Foster continued. 

The Good Law Project, which previously teamed up with Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth to bring a legal challenge against the government’s Net Zero strategy – which saw it be rewritten – have started mobilising their members to prepare for another legal battle. 

A spokesperson said: “Through our latest legal action, we have forced the government to disclose to us that its latest net zero plan is already fraught with risks.

“Ministers have refused to make these ‘risk tables’ public and in the next few months we’ll have a hearing in the High Court to try and force the government to publish them for all to see. 

“We want to help the public and Parliament hold the government to account on its new net zero strategy and to stop ministers from hiding vital information.”

ClientEarth said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the timing of the announcement, which coincides with leaders gathering at the UN general assembly in New York to talk about climate change, signals the UK government “is abandoning any vestiges of climate leadership” 

Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, said that weakening green policies will “simply undermine business confidence and put British jobs at risk”.

He continued: “The government is already being taken to court over its weak and feeble climate action plan, which we say is unlawful. If this current package is weakened further, and in a way that’s not transparent about delivery risks, then further legal challenges are inevitable.”