'Of course net zero is important to me', Rishi Sunak insists, as he refuses to commit to banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2030
Words by ITV News Westminster Producer Lucy McDaid
The prime minister appears to be rowing back on key climate change policies in a bid to woo voters and prevent increasing household costs ahead of the next general election.
Speaking on Monday, Rishi Sunak said he is "not prepared" to introduce green policies that will "unnecessarily give people more hassle and more costs in their life".
He refused to say whether or not he was still committed to ending the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2030, but insisted reaching net zero is "of course" important to him.
When asked if he would stand up to MPs on the right of his party urging him to water down net zero policies, Mr Sunak said: "Actually I'm standing up for the British people because I'm also cognisant that we're living through a time at the moment where inflation is high".
"That's having an impact on household and families' bills. I don't want to add to that, I want to make it easier.
"So yes we're going to make progress towards net zero but we're going to do that in a proportionate and pragmatic way that doesn't unnecessarily give people more hassle and more costs in their lives - that's not what I'm interested in and prepared to do."
Mr Sunak's comments follow a double by-election defeat for the Conservatives last week, but they narrowly managed to avoid a triple blow due to divisions over the expansion of the ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) in London.
The Conservatives just about managed to hold on to Boris Johnson's former seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip because voters opposed plans by London's Labour mayor Sadiq Khan to extend the scheme that charges the most polluting vehicles.
In a clear sign that voters are predominantly concerned by their household finances, it appears Mr Sunak could be prepared to row back on green policies in a bid to win voters and save them money ahead of the next general election.
'I'm standing up for the British People', urges Rishi Sunak, as he refuses to commit to green policies that will increase costs for families
But it won't be good news for critics who are sceptical about the government's commitment to tackling the climate crisis.
Just last month Mr Sunak was labelled "uninterested" in the environment by the outgoing environment minister Lord Zac Goldsmith, who quit after attacking the government's so-called "apathy" towards climate change.
However, Mr Sunak has denied this. Speaking to reporters on Monday, he insisted "we are making progress towards net zero", adding "our track record on this is much better than the vast majority of other countries that we're compared to".
But he also insisted the commitment would not come at a financial cost to voters.
Other suggestions to win voters include a ban on low-traffic neighbourhoods and giving landlords longer to meet energy efficiency targets.
'We're absolutely committed to cleaning up our air but we've got make sure we do this in a way that's helpful and affordable for people', says Shadow Levelling Up Sec Lisa Nandy
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, meanwhile, has vowed to stick with his green pledges, while stressing the need to reflect and "learn the lessons" from the Uxbridge and South Ruislip loss over how climate-friendly measures are implemented.
However, the opposition party faces the same challenge when it comes to balancing the needs of the climate emergency alongside the reality of the soaring cost of living.
Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy suggested green policies under a Labour government would also take into the account the cost to households.
"We got a very clear message not just in the Uxbridge by-election but in many other parts of the country, where clean air schemes and similar schemes to ULEZ have been introduced, that the cost of living crisis is really biting for people," Ms Nandy said.
"And since many of those schemes were designed, with the government, the cost of living crisis has worsened, it has become far more expensive for people to get hold of cleaner vehicles and politicians have to respond to that. We will respond to that and reflect on that.
"We're absolutely committed to cleaning up our air but we've got to make sure we do this in a way that's helpful and affordable for people who are currently really struggling as a result of Tory choices."
It comes after the Sunday Times reported earlier this month that Sir Keir claimed to "hate tree huggers."
The Party said this wasn't true, but there has been scepticism over Labour's commitment to tackling climate change after it postponed its £28 billion a year pledge for green investment.
While Monday was a day for the Conservatives to announce a new long-term housing policy, a key battleground ahead of the next general election, it's clear there is no escaping from how they plan to handle the climate crisis.
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