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Apocalypse... now! Rishi Sunak abandons net-zero pledges

As we enter an era of ‘global boiling’, Sunak doubles down on the most important thing of all: sparing the British public from the possibility of being inconvenienced

Not to be a doomer but, do you ever get the sense that things are going quite badly in the world? That we are all, to differing extents, staring down the barrel of decades of pain and suffering? Well anyway, during a speech this afternoon, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that the government will be scaling back a number of its net-zero targets, presumably on the basis that the fight against the climate crisis is going too well.

Sunak insists that he is not abandoning the effort to achieve net zero by 2050 (that is, negating the amount of greenhouse gasses produced by human activity, both through reducing emissions and removing them from the atmosphere). Instead, he claims that Westminster will now pursue the goal in a way that avoids imposing “significant costs on working people”.

Sunak’s new approach involves delaying a ban on gas and diesel-only cars until 2035, instead of 2030, and weakening targets to phase out gas boilers. Sunak also promised a number of “heavy-handed measures” that his government won’t take, many of which aren’t even on the table right now: there will be no taxes on eating meat, no new taxes to discourage flying, no new energy-efficiency rules for landlords or homeowners, no “sorting your rubbish into seven different bins”, no “compulsory carpooling”, and no “expensive insulation upgrades”. Thank goodness we won’t have to face such dystopian measures... 

Obviously, environmental activists, the liberal left and basically anyone who cares about the continuing existence of the planet aren’t happy about Sunak’s speech. But perhaps surprisingly, several Conservative politicians have also been heavily critical, including Boris Johnson and Chris Skidmore MP, who said that it was “potentially the greatest mistake” of Sunak’s time in office. 

Right-wing politicians weren’t the only unlikely haters: the chairwoman of Ford UK hit out at the delayed ban on petrol-and-diesel cars, saying, “Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.” Across the British motor industry, there has recently been significant investment in electrical cars, which experts believe could be undermined by Sunak’s latest intervention.

Sunak’s row-back comes after a summer in which Europe, and elsewhere in the world, was ravaged by heatwaves, wildfires and floods, and a UN specialist warned that, never mind global warming, the era of “global boiling” has already arrived. Still, it’s reassuring to know that, according to Sunak, none of us will have to be even mildly inconvenienced by the efforts to stop this from happening.

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