The Government says it remains committed to the 2030 car and van fossil fuel phase-out date.
However, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, says he wants to take a “pragmatic” approach to achieving net zero, suggesting some green policies could be watered down.
Speaking to reporters yesterday (Monday, July 24), he promised not to "unnecessarily" add costs and "hassle" to households to hit climate targets.
He said: “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.”
Green policies have taken centre stage after the Conservatives won the by-election in Boris Johnson’s former seat, Uxbridge and South Ruislip, with voters protesting against the expansion of London’s ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) at the end of next month (August, 2023).
Asked about pressure from some backbench MPs to soften some environmental policies, such as the ban on the sale of new internal combustion engine (ICE) cars and vans, Sunak said he was listening to their concerns.
“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,” he explained.
“That’s having an impact on household and families’ bills. I don’t want to add to that, I want to make it easier.”
Downing Street later said that it remained “committed” to the 2030 phase out date but told the FT: “We will scrutinise this approach and make sure it’s the correct one.”
Melanie Shufflebotham, co-founder and chief operating officer at Zapmap, says that future climate commitments should not be a “political football”.
“Road transport accounts for around 20% of all our emissions, and electric vehicles are a proven technology solution,” she added.
“The 2030 ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars has given business the confidence to invest — an entire industry is working towards meeting this deadline and it is well within reach.
“In spite of the recent surge in misinformation, the facts are that charging infrastructure is rolling out at pace, electric sales are strong despite a challenging economy, and existing EV drivers are happier with their vehicles than those still driving petrol.
“The Government must be like a handbrake-less electric car, and not roll back.”
Lauren Pamma, director of transport programmes at the Green Finance Institute, believes that backtracking now would create confusion for the market and send "concerning signals" on the Government's priorities.
“Rather than reconsider the ban, there are different levers that can be pulled to make the EV transition more cost effective, including supporting the used EV market to bring costs down for consumers and cutting the rate of VAT on public charging to match that of home charging,” she said.
“Reviewing the 2030 ban would be in direct contradiction to the findings and recommendations of the Climate Change Committee’s 2023 report to Parliament.
"The CCC urged that the Government 'stay firm on existing commitments and move to delivery' – maintaining the ban despite transient political pressures would be evidence of doing so and contribute to reclaiming the UK’s position of leadership on climate."
While some will welcome a prospective delay, Philip Nothard, insight director at Cox Automotive, says others will find the idea “abhorrent” from an environmental and commercial point of view.
“I imagine there will be considerable anger from many OEMs at the prospect of any change, especially if it’s coming from the cynical perspective of attracting votes,” he added.
“The 2030 deadline was always ambitious and its misalignment with the rest of Europe an irritant, but OEMs, their global supply chains, and an entire emerging sector of infrastructure partners have committed all they have to this timetable. Many will believe a U-turn now simply unimaginable.
“Incentives from the UK Government are crucial to encourage and support consumer transition to BEVs and accelerate the shift towards sustainable transportation.
“Any deviation at this stage must be down to pragmatism and what’s best for the transition to ‘zero tailpipe’, the automotive sector and the car buying public, not simply as a tactic to curry favour with voters.”