Rishi Sunak rocked the boat today over environment policy, leading him to receive backlash, Shehab Khan, Chris Choi and Robert Peston report
Rishi Sunak will delay a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by five years until 2035, but has argued it is "absolutely wrong" to claim he is watering down key climate targets.
The prime minister said he was acting to avoid public "backlash" by changing some of the current environmental policies.
He argued they would impose "unacceptable costs" on families struggling during the cost of living crisis.
Mr Sunak was forced to deliver the speech after leaked reports to the media bitterly divided the Conservative Party and sparked concern among several major car manufacturers.
Accused of abandoning the UK's position as a climate leader in order to win voters, Mr Sunak insisted he was standing by the legally binding goal of reaching net zero by 2050.
He said his change of approach towards tackling climate change would "command very broad support, not just in our party but also in the country".
But his announcement has been greeted with a mixed response, not least because he delivered the speech on the same day world leaders met at a UN climate summit.
Some of the key climate target changes announced:
The ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be delayed from 2030 to 2035
Weakening the phase out of gas boilers from 2035, including an exemption for low income households so they never have to make the switch
Delaying the ban on boilers relying on heating oil in off-grid homes from 2026 to 2035
Scrapping policies to force landlords to meet energy efficiency targets
Critics have already condemned the prime minister for not attending, with one saying the UK has not "matched ambition with concrete action".
Labour shadow environment secretary Steve Reed predicted that Rishi Sunak’s announcement on weakening environmental pledges would “blow up in his face”.
“What the prime minister just announced today was selling out the biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century and that is for Britain to lead the world in the transition to a new green economy,” Mr Reed told Sky News.
Shaun Spiers, executive director at Green Alliance, said: "Global leaders are meeting for a climate ambition summit at the United Nations today - and Rishi Sunak's not on the list.
"Our legally binding commitment to reach net zero by 2050 ought to have earned us a place with the "early movers" showing the world how it's done today."
He added: "The truth is that, by sacrificing climate policies for short-term political gains, we're throwing away hard-won progress on the climate and with it our international reputation on this issue."
Families across the UK face 'unacceptable costs' if the government doesn't change its approach to tackling climate change, Rishi Sunak insists
Mr Sunak was accused of leaving the motoring industry “high and dry” after delaying a ban on new petrol and diesel cars.
Ian Plummer, commercial director at Auto Trader, said: “Only half of people could see how an EV (electric vehicle) could fit into their lifestyle as it is, suggesting major barriers to adoption.
“We should be positively addressing concerns over affordability and charging rather than planting seeds of doubt.
“This announcement has only served to remove trust and confidence in the UK market.”
Another industry leader, the RAC Foundation, said the change contradicted the “huge sums of money” that the government has already spent on electric battery production.
Even this month, Mr Sunak insisted the 2030 date, originally set out by Boris Johnson, remained government policy.
Commenting on the reports, the former prime minister said "we cannot afford to falter now or in any way lose our ambition" to reach net zero emissions.
"The green Industrial Revolution is already generating huge numbers of high quality jobs and helping to drive growth and level up our country," Mr Johnson said.
Meanwhile Chris Norbury, CEO of E.ON UK, said: "There is no 'green vs cheap' debate, it's a false argument that only serves to delay the vital work of transforming our economy - work that creates more affordable and secure energy while also boosting jobs and skills, often in the areas of the country most at risk of being left behind.
"This is a mis-step on many levels. From a business perspective, companies wanting to invest in the UK need long term certainty to create the jobs and economic prosperity the country needs."
'It's a really dubious proposition that this wins the Conservatives more votes', Tory MP Simon Clarke tells ITV News
Other environmental pledges to be watered down include delaying the phase out of gas boilers, scrapping home insulation targets and getting rid of new taxes on flying.
Mr Sunak, who has been accused of trying to win over voters, confirmed that households will "never" be forced to "rip out their existing boiler and replace it with a heat pump".
He added: "Even the most committed advocates of net zero must recognise that if our solution is to force people to pay that kind of money, support will collapse and we will simply never get there.
"So I'm announcing today that we will give people far more time to make the necessary transition to hear pumps."
Families, which Mr Sunak claims could have faced extra costs of £10,000 to £15,000 to meet the government's initial climate commitments, will only need to switch to a heat pump when they replace their boiler - and that won't need to happen until 2035.
He also said a new exemption will be applied for low income households so they "never have to switch at all".
'It cannot be right for Westminster to impose such significant costs on working people', argues Rishi Sunak
But Conservative MP and former COP26 president Sir Alok Sharma warned the Earth will be on "life support", arguing Mr Sunak's actions "will not help economically or electorally."
And Tory MP Simon Clarke told ITV News: "All the evidence shows Conservative voters really strongly believe in the net zero project, certainly in red wall seats which stand to benefit from thousands of new manufacturing jobs if that's the case.
"After a summer where we've seen wildfires across Europe, and at a time when global migration flows being driven by, in many cases, climate related disasters are such an issue in the UK, I cannot see how it makes sense for us to be doing things which weaken our standing on this issue rather than strengthen it."
However, other Tory MPs welcomed Mr Sunak's idea in what took just a few hours to become a bitter dividing line within the party.
Liz Truss, Mr Sunak's predecessor and Britain's shortest-serving prime minister, also welcomed the announcement but urged the PM to go further still.
"I welcome the delay on banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars as well as the delay on the ban on oil and gas boilers. This is particularly important for rural areas," she wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
"I now urge the government to abolish the Windfall Tax on oil and gas and lift the fracking ban, which would reduce people's energy bills and make the UK more competitive."
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt says climate policies must be 'proportionate, pragmatic, and carries families with us who are finding life extremely difficult at the moment'
Also defending the PM on Wednesday was his Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who insisted the government is committed to net zero by 2050.
"We are incredibility proud to be a country that has reduced emissions more than any other, passed net zero into law before any other major country, and only yesterday the prime minister said we will continue to reduce emissions," Mr Hunt said.
"But we need to do so in a way that is proportionate, pragmatic, and carries families with us who are finding life extremely difficult at the moment."
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…