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Net zero – wider discussion needed

25 September 2023

Rishi Sunak announcing changes to net zero on 20 September. Photo Simon Walker/No 10 Downing Street via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced on 20 September that he will postpone the proposed ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles and gas boilers by five years. This is a welcome, if modest, first step on the road to challenging the infallibility of net zero orthodoxy.

Extending the deadline from 2030 to 2035 does not of itself repudiate the goal of net zero., Sunak has said he “wants to take the people with him” towards net zero. But it begins to dismantle the notion that we will have to accept without question any policy in the name of net zero.

Out of touch

The move has, unsurprisingly, outraged environmental “activists” and self-appointed climate spokesmen. And the Labour Party, so out of touch with the feelings of real people, immediately pledged to restore the 2030 deadline if they win the next general election.

‘There has been no debate or meaningful consultation.’

Sunak justified his decision on the grounds that the costs of the net zero measures were unacceptable and imposed without discussion. Absolutely correct. The target of reaching net zero by 2050 was nodded through parliament. No consideration given to affordability, impact or practicality. There was no debate then or since. Nor has there been any meaningful public consultation.

The EU has already watered down its own deadline for eliminating petrol and diesel vehicles in the face of widespread opposition from car manufacturers. Here, Ford have been widely reported as critical of the deferral. The welcome it received from Toyota and Land Rover was less well reported.


But electric vehicle quotas for car makers will remain. In 2024 around 20 per cent of cars and 10 per cent of vans sold must be electrically powered. Manufacturers face heavy fines if they fail to comply. The EV car quota is expected to rise to 80 per cent by 2030.

This policy, the Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate, was subject to consultation – on how it should be done, not if it was sensible. The government still has not finalised the details. Industry reports suggest that car makers are well behind the level of mandated EV sales they will need.


There was no challenge in 2019 when Theresa May’s government passed a law that Britain must achieve net zero by 2050. But in 2021 Boris Johnson’s addition of the 2030 targets as part of the government’s Net Zero Strategy made people sit up and take notice.

All this net zero policy is driven by the Climate Change Committee, an appointed body. Supposedly independent, it has shifted from providing evidence and advice towards setting policy. Its views are rarely tested or examined properly – and it does not engage in open discussion with the British people.


Emerging revelations show that the true costs of net zero have been underestimated. And achieving the targets seems to depend on technologies that are yet to be developed. Such realisations have resulted in a wave of popular discontent about the government’s net zero measures, as well as opposition to other related policies such as the London ULEZ.

Sunak has taken a faltering first step, leaving room to alter policy again. If the 2030 target is said to be unacceptable without discussion, then other steps imposed without discussion in the name of net zero must also be unacceptable.