A year before the legislative elections, the British Conservative government on Wednesday half-heartedly acknowledged a setback on certain flagship measures to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, sparking strong criticism even within the ruling party.
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Economic circles also reacted strongly.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is due to deliver a speech at 4:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m. GMT) on the subject.
Green policies seem to be in the hot seat in the United Kingdom as the Conservatives, very low in the polls after twelve years in office, and Labor are honing their weapons in view of the legislative elections expected next year.
At the end of July, Rishi Sunak already caused an uproar by promising hundreds of new oil and gas exploration and exploitation licenses in the North Sea.
On Tuesday evening, after leaks to the media, he suggested that the UK was preparing to review its policy regarding the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. He indicated that he would try to achieve carbon neutrality, but “in a better and more proportionate way”.
According to the BBC, he wants in particular to delay by five years the ban on the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars planned for 2030 and to modify the plan to gradually eliminate gas boilers from 2035. He would also abandon a tax for discourage flying.
“We are not going to save the planet by ruining the British people,” Interior Minister Suella Braverman said Wednesday morning. “We remain absolutely determined to achieve the objective of carbon neutrality by 2050”, but with a “pragmatic” approach, she said.
Without waiting for the Prime Minister’s speech, criticism multiplied on Wednesday morning, including in his own camp.
“Rishi Sunak still has time to think and not make the biggest mistake of his mandate,” Chris Skidmore, a Conservative and former Secretary of State for Energy, told the British PA agency.
If confirmed, this decision “will cost the United Kingdom jobs, foreign investment”, according to him.
The economic community has also stepped up to the plate. The Association of Automobile Manufacturers and Sellers (SMMT) asked for “a clear and consistent message” from the government, deploring the “uncertainty” which only “slows down” the desire of motorists to go electric, so that the auto industry “has invested and continues to invest billions in new electric vehicles.”
A step back on carbon neutrality would go against the government’s efforts for several years to attract investment in automobile batteries to create electric car production “hubs” in the United Kingdom, crucial in the energy transition.
The opposition Labor Party MP in charge of Energy issues, Ed Miliband, also mocked a “farce on the part of a Conservative government which literally does not know what it is doing on a day to day basis”. .
The environmental association Greenpeace has criticized the government. “Under the Conservative government, Britain has gone from being a leader to being a laggard on climate change,” she criticized. “The new about-faces announced last night will only accelerate the decline of our influence on the international scene.”
Sunak’s government appeared to have initiated a U-turn on climate policy in July, after Labour’s surprise defeat by the Conservatives in a local election in west London.
This result was put down to voters’ distrust of the extension of a tax on polluting vehicles to the whole of Greater London, or nine million inhabitants, and wanted by Labor mayor Sadiq Khan.
According to a YouGov poll last spring, 65% of Britons say they are worried about the consequences of climate change, but the majority are opposed to most measures that would require personal effort.