Rishi Sunak ‘set us back’ on climate change target, watchdog boss Chris Stark warns

Rishi Sunak delayed or scrapped policies meant to cut carbon emissions. Credit: PA

Rishi Sunak’s decision to water down environmental policies has “set us back” on reaching net zero, the head of the Government’s climate watchdog has said.

The Prime Minister gave a speech last year delaying or scrapping some policies meant to cut carbon emissions.

Chris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, said other countries now regarded the UK as “less ambitious on climate”.

He added: “In the speech itself, he talked about the need to reappraise lots of the steps that take us to net zero. My honest answer to that is I think it set us back.”

Mr Stark, who is due to step down from the Climate Change Committee at the end of April, said Mr Sunak had not made net zero “as much of a priority as some of his predecessors”.

He added it would be “extremely difficult to recover” the UK’s international reputation on climate action.

The Government remains formally committed to reaching net zero by 2050, but has delayed a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles and weakened targets on home insulation and phasing out gas boilers.

Chris Stark is stepping down as chief executive of the Climate Change Committee at the end of April Credit: Climate Change Committee via PA

In his speech in October, Mr Sunak said the changes were a more “pragmatic, proportionate, and realistic approach to meeting net zero” that reduced the burden on the public.

A Government spokesperson said: “Our record on net zero speaks for itself – we are the first major economy to halve greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 and have set into law one of the most ambitious 2035 climate change targets of any major economy.

“But we need to reach our net zero goals in a sustainable way so we have taken action to protect our energy security, ease the burdens on hard-working people and provide transparency about the choices involved so that we bring people with us in meeting our climate targets.”

Mr Stark said the Scottish Government’s decision to remove some of its own climate change targets provided a “salutary lesson”.

He said: “Political ambition is exactly what we need in climate change, but that was a bridge too far. There wasn’t a credible path to that target.”

Mr Stark, who was speaking to the BBC, said Labour should be more “bold” on climate change, with Sir Keir Starmer talking about the subject more.

He added: “You look out your window and you see we’ve had, you know, the wettest 18 months ever in this country, we’ve got the hottest year on record in the last 12 months.

“I think people around the world know climate change is happening, but there is definitely a fear of talking about it in British politics at the moment.”

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