Rishi Sunak under fire from UK tech stakeholders over revision of net-zero policies

Prime minister Rishi Sunak is putting the UK’s position as a potential leader in the clean tech space at serious risk with his plans to “water down” the government’s net-zero policies, warns TechUK.

In a speech on Wednesday 20 September, Sunak confirmed reports the government is plotting a revision of several of its policies that are designed to support the UK’s work to become a net-zero economy by 2050.

During his speech, Sunak described the changes as being a “more pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach” to meeting the UK’s net-zero goal that will “ease the burdens on working people”.

Details of Sunak’s plans were first revealed in a BBC report published on 19 September 2023, which stated the government is set to push back the start of its ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035.

It has also revised its other pledge to phase out the installation of gas boilers by 2035, stating that only 80% would be phased out by that year, and said it will not be pressing ahead with plans to revamp the UK’s recycling processes.

The report also further claimed that there would be no new energy-efficiency regulations imposed on homeowners or landlords, and no new taxes introduced to discourage people from flying.

“I’ve examined our plans… we seem to have defaulted to an approach which will impose unacceptable costs on hard-pressed British families – costs that that no one was told about [or] how much they may not actually be necessary to deliver the emissions reductions that we need,” continued Sunak.

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Resistance to change

The policy changes have seen the government come in for criticism from various quarters, including from key stakeholders within the motoring industry.

As reported by The Independent, motor manufacturing giant Ford’s UK chair, Lisa Brankin, said businesses need “three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of [the] 2030 [goal] would undermine all three”.

Meanwhile, Julian David, CEO of UK technology trade body TechUK, also criticised Sunak’s plans for introducing uncertainty that could deter investment in the UK’s clean tech sector.

“To make the long-term investments necessary to achieve net zero, businesses need a clear and stable policy environment. Weakening its targets sends the wrong signals, deters investment and turns heads towards countries with more stable regulatory environments. It places the UK’s prospects as a clean tech leader at serious risk,” said David.

An independent review into the UK’s net-zero plans previously described them as signifying a “significant economic opportunity for the UK”, which David said is an opportunity the government is now at risk of squandering.

“The government’s own commissioned review said the net-zero transition is the economic opportunity of the 21st century, and the economic benefits will be mostly felt by countries who move early and encourage the most research and development (R&D) and innovation.”

 

Craig Melson, associate director for climate, environment and sustainability at TechUK, and a regular contributor to the Computer Weekly IT Sustainability Think Tank, was equally disparaging of the government’s plans in a blog post, and called on Sunak to rethink his plans.

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“This sends the worst possible signal to investors, the business community and the tech sector, who have already suffered years of regulatory uncertainty and confused signals,” he wrote.

“While businesses themselves have set ambitious targets, we need the right signals supported by regulatory and policy certainty to make the investment case and commit to developing long-term R&D.

“Some industries only have one or two investment cycles before 2050, and many will simply defer the (much-needed) R&D efforts or divert their investment away from the UK.”  

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