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In-depth Q&A: What do Rishi Sunak’s U-turns mean for UK climate policy?

September 26, 2023

In a shock announcement, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak revealed earlier this week plans to abandon or delay core parts of his government’s climate strategy.

Under Sunak’s “new approach”, a 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars has been delayed by five years, the 2035 phaseout of gas boiler sales has been loosened and landlords will not be obliged to insulate their rental properties to higher standards.

The U-turns have been widely condemned by hundreds of companies, climate leaders and politicians from across the political spectrum.

Although the prime minister has rejected accusations of “watering down” climate policies, his actions will undoubtedly throw the UK even further off course from its legally binding emissions targets.

With Sunak’s Conservative government trailing in the pre-election polls, the rollbacks were framed as an “honest” approach to net-zero that removed “unacceptable costs” from “hard-working British people”.

Yet some of his changes will cost consumers billions. His speech was full of misleading statements, often tapping into talking points popular among right-wingers in his party.

In this article, Carbon Brief explains the context of the prime minister’s speech and factchecks his new announcements.

What was the context behind Rishi Sunak’s speech?

On 19 September, BBC News said “multiple sources” had confirmed that Sunak was “considering weakening some of the government’s key green commitments in a major policy shift” in “the coming days”.

Among the measures set to be delayed were flagship net-zero policies such as the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales and the phaseout of gas boiler sales by 2035, according to the report.

The resulting flurry of media coverage saw Sunak release a scrambled statement confirming the plans and, subsequently, formally confirm the details in a speech the following day.

In that speech, the prime minister came with what he described as a “new approach” to tackling climate change based on “sensible, green leadership”. He characterised his actions as a pragmatic response to net-zero, telling the audience:

“No one in Westminster politics has yet had the courage to look people in the eye and explain what’s really involved.”

Sunak said those who wanted stronger climate policies were gripped by an “ideological zeal”, adding that they want to do more “no matter the cost or disruption to people’s lives”.

Yet the government’s own climate advisers have repeatedly warned that the government is not doing enough to meet its legally binding climate goals.

Even areas in which the UK has historically performed well, such as building offshore wind turbines, have been faltering.

Meanwhile, the EU and the US have announced large investments in low-carbon technologies to boost their economies, respond to the global energy crisis and compete with rivals such as China.

Sunak’s Conservatives are polling far behind the Labour party and are widely expected to lose the general election that is likely to take place next year. As a result, the government has been facing pressure, from the right wing of its own party and the right-leaning media, to roll back parts of its net-zero strategy. (See: Why did Sunak make this speech?)

All of this took place as world leaders gathered at a UN “climate ambition” summit in New York. Conservative leaders from the UK neither attended the summit nor signed up to a newly launched statement pledging ambitious action.

What policy changes did Rishi Sunak announce?


Sunak confirmed that the 2030 ban on the sale of new internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles – petrol and diesel cars, plus vans – will be pushed back by five years to 2035.

He said the upfront cost of EVs was still too high, charging infrastructure needs to be “truly nationwide” and that the auto industry needs to be “strengthened…so we aren’t reliant on heavily subsidised, carbon intensive imports, from countries like China”.

Sunak is pushing back the deadline by five years. The previous deadline was set in 2020, after the then-prime minister Boris Johnson brought the ban forwards by five years from 2035 as part of his Ten Point Plan.

In his speech, Sunak went on to note that “even after [2035], you’ll still be able to buy and sell them second-hand”. This does not represent a change from the previous ban on new ICE vehicles from 2035.

After some initial confusion, the government has now confirmed that the zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) mandate will remain in place. Speaking to BBC News, business secretary Kemi Badenoch was among the ministers to confirm that the ZEV mandate is unchanged.

As such, from January 2024, the mandate was due to require 22% of vehicles sold to be electric, rising to 80% in 2030. If manufacturers fail to hit that target, they could be hit with a fine of up to £15,000 a car.

The Department of Transport is yet to respond to its ZEV consultation, which closed in May. The mandate will still need to be voted on in the House of Commons, before it comes into force in just over four months.


In another major policy U-turn, Sunak also announced that the ban on the sale of oil, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) and new coal heating for off-gas-grid homes will be pushed back to 2035. The phase out had previously been set at 2026 for these mostly rural properties.

This change will ensure homeowners do not have to pay around £10-15,000 to upgrade their homes in just three years’ time, Sunak claimed.

(In fact, only those replacing their oil boilers would have needed to install a new system – and they would have been eligible for government support to do so.)

Other bans to fossil-fuel boilers, such as the 2025 ban on using them in new homes and the wider 2035 ban remain in place. However, there will now be exemptions to the latter for “households who will most struggle to make the switch to heat pumps or other low-carbon alternatives”, Sunak said.

(In his speech, he falsely claimed that some homes “will never ever be suitable for a heat pump”. Government-funded fieldwork has concluded: “There is no property type or architectural era that is unsuitable for a heat pump.”)

He said the new exemption was expected to cover about a fifth of homes, including off-gas-grid homes, which will need either the most expensive retrofitting or a very large electricity connection.

It remains very unclear how this exemption would work and which homes it would apply to. The government remains committed to implementing its clean heat market mechanism (CHMM), set to require a rising share of heating sales to be zero-emissions from 2024, in a similar way to the ZEV mandate.

Sunak said:

“We’ll never force anyone to rip out their existing boiler and replace it with a heat pump. You’ll only ever have to make the switch when you’re replacing your boiler anyway and, even then, not until 2035. [This was already the case under previous policy.] And, to help those households for whom this will be hardest, I’m introducing a new exemption today so that they’ll never have to switch at all.”

The ban on oil boilers was set to affect around 1.7m homes in predominantly rural areas. It has been a popular talking point in some right-leaning newspapers, with former environment minister George Eustice likening it to a “rural Ulez” (a reference to London’s Ulez air-pollution scheme).

At the beginning of August, Eustice put forward a proposal to the energy bill – within which the ban was set to be legislated – calling for it to be amended.

There has been widespread recognition that the 2026 date was exacting, with the Climate Change Committee (CCC), for example, recommending that, instead, the installation of new oil boilers should be phased out by 2028 in homes and 2025-26 in commercial properties.

The 2026 deadline for the sale of new oil, LPG and new coal heating had been set following a 2021 consultation.

Sunak announced an increase to the grant available through the boiler upgrade scheme. This currently sits at £5,000 for air-source heat pumps, £6,000 for ground-source heat pumps (including water-source heat pumps and those on shared ground loops) and £6,000 for a biomass boiler.

This will now be increased to £7,500 to support households to switch from an oil or gas boiler. Whether the overall funding for the scheme will increase was not specified.

Sunak stated that “this is one of the most generous schemes of its kind in Europe.”. According to a report from the European Heat Pump Association (EHPA) earlier this year, the proposed level of subsidy is higher than many European countries, with Norway, for example, offering just €1,000 for ground-source heat pumps.

However, it is still well below the level seen in countries such as Lithuania (€14,500), Germany (€15,000-€18,000), France (€15,000) and five Swiss cantons (€22,320), according to the EHPA.

Energy efficiency

Sunak also announced that he was scrapping planned regulations on minimum energy efficiency standards for rental properties.

Previously, rules around the minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES) meant that rental properties had to meet an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of E or above from 2025.

However, if the cost of improving the energy efficiency to meet EPC E was above £3,500, landlords could register for an “all improvements made” exemption.

There were additional proposals that all existing privately rented properties should increase this to an EPC rating of C or above by 2028.

Sunak said that “while we will continue to subsidise energy efficiency, we’ll never force any household to do it”.

He pointed to the “Great British insulation scheme”, which started in April 2023. Last week, the government launched £1bn worth of grants under the scheme, which can be used by those in lower council tax bands with less energy efficient homes.

Installing roof, loft or cavity wall insulation could cut annual energy bills by an average of between £300 and £400, the government suggests.

Citizens Advice analysis found upgrading Great Britain’s inefficient homes to EPC band C would save consumers £24bn on their energy bills by 2030.

Carbon Brief analysis in 2023 found that energy bills were nearly £10bn higher than they would have been if climate policies, such as energy efficiency support, had not been scrapped over the past decade.

Separate analysis from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit found that delaying the implementation of the MEES to 2030 would cost bill payers more than £1.4bn under a medium gas price scenario.

According to a report from Institute for Public Policy Research, almost all of England’s 24m homes need to be upgraded with either energy-efficiency measures, low-carbon heating or both. However, the UK government has been falling £2.6bn short of its energy efficiency manifesto commitment.

Carbon budgets

The process for signing off carbon budgets will be changed, said Sunak. The last carbon budget was debated for “just 17 minutes” in the House of Commons, he claimed, and was voted through with “barely any consideration given to the hard choices needed to fulfil it”.

“It was the carbon equivalent of promising to boost government spending with no way to pay for it,” he added.

There is in fact already a detailed process in place for agreeing carbon budgets, under which the government has to seek the advice of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) and take into account matters including the economic, fiscal and social circumstances.

The most recently set sixth carbon budget was set by the government only after it had taken CCC advice, which included hundreds of pages of analysis on the “hard choices needed to fulfil it”. The budget was also subject to a government impact assessment considering different levels of ambition.

Nevertheless, there was some support for the idea that carbon budgets be subject to more extensive parliamentary debate before being signed off.

Adam Bell, director of policy at consultancy Stonehaven and a former senior energy official, tells Carbon Brief that Sunak could be intending for future carbon budgets to be debated within the full parliament chamber, rather than in “delegated committee” as previously.

Plans for how to meet the carbon budgets will now need to be seen at the same time as parliament votes on the budget itself, said Sunak. It is unclear what this would mean, given previous budgets were already voted on in light of CCC proposals on how to meet them.

Energy infrastructure

Sunak announced that “comprehensive new reforms to energy infrastructure” will soon be released by the chancellor and the climate and energy-security secretary, Claire Coutinho.

Currently, it can take “14 years” to build new grid infrastructure, slowing down the rollout of energy technologies such as offshore wind and nuclear, he said.

This will include plans to speed up the “most nationally significant projects” and ending the

“first-come-first-served approach to grid connections by raising the bar to enter the queue and make sure those ready first, will connect first”.

Challenges around grid infrastructure have been flagged by the energy industry for years. In May, National Grid set out its recommendations in a report called “Delivering for 2035: Upgrading the grid for a secure, clean and affordable energy future”.

These build on previous efforts to reduce grid-connection times, including a transmission entry capacity register amnesty launched in 2022 and targeted reforms announced in June to speed connection up by 10 years.

Additionally, Sunak said the government will set out the “UK’s first-ever spatial plan for that infrastructure”, in order “to give industry certainty and every community a say”.

This would mean planning out in advance the types of heating, transport and industry expected in different neighbourhoods in the future – and planning and developing the energy infrastructure that that will require.

Additional changes

Beyond these elements, Sunak announced a new, £150m “green future fellowship”, which will support at least 50 scientists and engineers to develop “real, breakthrough green technologies”, he said.

This will build on the £1bn invested as part of the “net-zero innovation portfolio”, which was announced when Sunak was chancellor.

Beyond these core changes, Sunak promised further details around protections for nature. He said:

“We can’t tackle climate change without protecting nature; and vice versa. Just the loss of forests alone accounts for the equivalent of ten times the global emissions of the entire United Kingdom.

“And, in the coming weeks, ahead of my attendance at COP28, I will set out the next stage in our ambitious environmental agenda.”

Factcheck: How ‘honest’ was Sunak’s speech?

Sunak’s speech was pitched as a frank attempt to go beyond the normal bluster and duplicity of Westminster politics. He said there was a need to be “honest with the public” about net-zero, calling for a “more honest debate” and “honesty, not obfuscation”.

Yet, in reality, the prime minister’s speech was full of statements that were at best exaggerated and at worst deceptive.

Sunak said he was not “abandoning any of our targets or commitments”. He subsequently objected when multiple journalists said he had “watered down” the UK’s climate plans, yet experts are clear that this is the case.

He also said he did not want the UK to be “reliant on expensive, imported energy from foreign dictators like Putin” and wanted to avoid “unacceptable costs on hard-pressed British families”.

But cutting energy-efficiency measures in homes and slowing down the transition from fossil-fuelled cars and boilers will leave people more exposed to the high costs of imported fossil fuels. Tenants are now set to face higher energy bills and consumers will likely experience a more costly transition to EVs and heat pumps.

Broadly, Sunak repeatedly described net-zero policies as a “burden”, emphasising “tough choices and sacrifices”.

This stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric of US president Joe Biden or European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who have focused on the advantages of a rapid net-zero transition. The government’s former “net-zero tsar” Chris Skidmore has called net-zero “the economic opportunity of the 21st century”.

The prime minister also framed net-zero policy as “lacking in debate and fundamental scrutiny”. This was ironic, given his decision to announce such major changes came during a parliamentary recess rather than directly addressing MPs – a move strongly objected to by House of Commons speaker, Lindsay Hoyle.

Among Sunak’s comments were claims that he had “scrapped” proposals ranging from taxes on meat to enforced carpooling, which are not and have never been government policy.

These comments were met with widespread derision from journalists and commentators. Many pointed out that it is impossible to scrap a proposal.

Nevertheless, they have been central to the government’s messaging around the new plans, appearing on social media posts and the frontpages of government-supporting newspapers.

Sunak made much in his speech of the UK’s past successes in tackling climate change.

He said the country had “massively over-delivered on every one of our carbon budgets despite continuous predictions we’d miss them”. (This is largely due to weak economic performance as a result of government policy, the global financial crisis and Covid.)

Echoing a favoured climate-sceptic talking point, Sunak stressed that UK emissions had fallen far more than France, China or the US – and that the UK only makes up 1% of global emissions. He also said the UK’s targets were more ambitious than any other major economy. (Number 10 released a set of charts alongside the speech, to highlight this point.)

It is true that the UK has some of the most ambitious climate targets and has cut emissions faster than many other comparable nations.

However, such rhetoric ignores some important realities. The UK government has been warned over and over again by its climate advisers the Climate Change Committee (CCC) that it does not have policies in place to meet those climate targets. (See: How will this affect the UK’s progress to net-zero?)

Most of the cuts in UK emissions so far have come from phasing out coal and scaling up gas and renewables in the power system. The nation must now decarbonise high-emitting sectors such as transport and buildings – both of which have seen key emissions-cutting policies withdrawn by Sunak.

Moreover, despite hailing “rapid technological advances”, which have helped bring the cost of offshore wind down by 70% allowing the industry to surge, the prime minister failed to mention that the most recent government auction for offshore wind secured no contracts at all. This was widely regarded as a result of Sunak’s government ignoring calls for industry to raise strike prices to reflect inflation levels.

Sunak framed the 2030 ban on new petrol-and-diesel car sales as unfair, given the EU and others are aiming for a 2035 ban.

This ignores the fact that the target was previously seen as the UK going further than the EU and aiming to attract post-Brexit investment. At the time, the government said, following public consultation, that an earlier ban was “central to UK economic growth”.

Then-secretary of state Grant Shapps said that bringing forward the ban “could create 40,000 extra jobs”. Analysis by consultancy Cambridge Econometrics that year concluded that the early ban could provide a £4.2bn boost to the economy.

The prime minister also emphasised the high cost of buying electric cars and heat pumps.

Analysis by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) has highlighted the money that people save when they own electric cars – despite higher upfront costs – due to lower costs of fuel and maintenance. It emphasised that Sunak’s changes mean EVs are “now likely to remain expensive for longer” amid market uncertainty in the UK.

As for heat pumps, Sunak said:

“We’ll never force anyone to rip out their existing boiler and replace it with a heat pump.”

While this is often a turn of phrase used in right-leaning newspapers, there has never been a government plan to make people “rip out” their boilers. The plan was for no new gas boilers to be sold beyond 2035.

As with electric cars, the loosened measures mean fewer people will benefit from the cost savings of running a heat pump. The UK already has some of the lowest installation rates in Europe, while trade body Energy UK notes that policy changes “would be creating an unfavourable and uncertain investment landscape”.

Sunak described his decision not to require rental properties to be better insulated as beneficial to tenants. He said that “some property owners would’ve been forced to make expensive upgrades in just two years’ time”, adding:

“And, even if you’re only renting, you’ll more than likely see some of that passed on in higher rents. That’s just wrong.”

Yet many assessments, including the government’s own, have concluded that such measures would collectively save tenants billions of pounds in energy bills, not to mention providing them with warmer homes. An E3G analysis from January this year concluded that upgrading tenants to EPC C properties would save them, on average, £570 per year.

Sunak also listed a range of “unnecessary and heavy-handed measures” that he claimed to have “scrapped”.

A “meat tax” and a frequent flyer levy to discourage people from engaging in high-emitting activities are both ideas that have been mooted for years. But, crucially, while they have been popular within NGOs and some thinktanks, they have not featured in any government policies.

In fact, all net-zero policies seeming to target behaviour change have been strongly opposed by successive Conservative governments. Former prime minister Boris Johnson rejected such “nanny state” actions and explicitly ruled out a meat tax.

The government’s own food strategy recommends a 30% reduction in meat consumption by 2031, but even this does not recommend a tax on meat.

Meanwhile, the government’s “jet-zero” plan for decarbonising planes sees UK air passenger numbers increase 70% by 2050. It contains no measures to discourage flying.

A government-commissioned report on behaviour change, including possible actions to cut flying and meat consumption, was even deleted from the government website shortly after being published alongside the net-zero strategy. (An archived version can be viewed here.)

In the end, the government’s March 2023 net-zero strategy said the goal would be to “go with the grain of existing behaviour and trends”.

Sunak also mentioned scrapping plans to “interfere in how many passengers you can have in your car”. Again, this does not refer to an existing policy measure in the UK.

There is a mention of “increasing average road vehicle occupancy” as a measure to be “considered” in the March 2023 delivery plan for net-zero. It says the proposal “requires further development”.

In 2021, the UK’s transport net-zero strategy mentioned ridesharing as a way to cut emissions, although primarily as a business opportunity. Guidance for local authorities from 2022 also suggests councils could promote – non-compulsory – lift sharing schemes.

Finally, there was a pledge to stop people being “forced” to have “seven different bins” for recycling in their homes. This appears to be based on a section of the government’s 2021 environment act that could have required local governments in England to collect six separate “recyclable waste streams”, plus household waste, subject to being activated by the secretary of state and with the option for councils to apply for an exemption.

However, even this would not have meant every household receiving seven bins, something acknowledged in guidance sent out by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra):

“Whilst it was never the case that seven bins would be needed by households, this new plan ensures it.”

How will this affect the UK’s progress to net-zero?

In snap analysis published on the day of Sunak’s speech, Carbon Brief illustrated the potential scale of emissions savings put at risk by his U-turns (see chart below).

The analysis concluded that the rollbacks could put the UK’s legally binding carbon budgets out of reach, as well as its international pledge made under the Paris Agreement.

(Despite early hints that the government might consider weakening the UK’s climate targets, Sunak insisted in his speech that he remained committed to all of them.)

The chart below, taken from the analysis, shows how UK emissions have already changed since 1990 (black line).

The country’s legally binding climate goals under five-yearly carbon budgets are shown with grey shading. These are interim goals on the way to the target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Progress in cutting emissions under the 2021 net-zero strategy, according to the government’s own numbers, are shown with the light blue line, with the March 2023 update shown in dark blue.

The red line shows the aggregated emissions savings from policies which are now at risk as a result of Sunak’s climate policy rollbacks, based on the government’s March 2023 estimates.

Historical UK emissions (black line) in millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e); five yearly UK carbon budgets starting with the first from 2008-2012 (grey shading), including “headroom” for emissions from international aviation and shipping (IAS), which will be fully incorporated into the UK’s targets from sixth carbon budget (2033-2038, CB6); expected emissions under the government’s 2021 net-zero strategy (light blue line) and its March 2023 update (dark blue), as well as a trajectory from there onwards to net-zero by 2050; policies at risk under Sunak’s climate policy rollbacks (red line). Source: Carbon Brief analysis. Chart by Simon Evans for Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

Some of the policies at risk identified in the chart above have now been backed by the government – the ZEV mandate, for example. However, given the mandate is yet to be firmly implemented and remains subject to parliamentary approval, in a hostile media environment stoked by Sunak’s rhetoric, the emissions savings it embodies still remain at risk. Even though some of the policy changes have turned out to be more limited than Sunak’s speech suggested, the confusion he created for consumers – and the uncertainty for investors – could have long-lasting impacts.

This could affect the attractiveness of the UK as a place to make low-carbon investments, the pace of consumer uptake of key low-carbon technologies and, ultimately, the speed of resulting emissions cuts.

Even before Sunak’s speech, the UK was off track for its targets. The government’s own figures, published in March 2023 and shown in dark blue in the chart, showed its quantified policies would not be enough to meet the 2030 Paris pledge or the legally binding sixth carbon budget covering 2033-2037.

Moreover, the CCC had said in June that the updated March net-zero strategy “worsened” the chances of the UK meeting its targets. It said there were only “credible” policies in place to make one-fifth of the emissions cuts needed over the next decade.

In its progress report, the CCC had urged the government to “stay firm on existing commitments and move to delivery”. The government has done the opposite.

Responding to Sunak’s rollbacks, CCC interim chair Prof Piers Forster said in a statement:

“We need to go away and do the calculations, but today’s announcement is likely to take the UK further away from being able to make its legal commitments. This, coupled with the recent unsuccessful offshore wind auction, gives us concern.”

Forster added that “more action is needed” and said the CCC would wait for the government’s new plan for meeting its targets. The government had been due to respond to the committee’s progress report in mid-October, but has given itself until 31 October.

The government’s March 2023 net-zero strategy was already facing legal challenges over its failure to adequately address risks to the delivery of its policies.

Now, the Good Law Project has written to the government asking to see how it still expects to meet its targets in light of the changes Sunak announced.

The government has a legal duty under section 13 of the Climate Change Act 2008 to have “policies and proposals” in place that will enable the carbon budgets to be met.

Interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the day after his speech, Sunak insisted that his government had looked at this and was confident the duty was still met:

“The secretary of state on behalf of the government under the current law has an ongoing responsibility to ensure that we do have policies and proposals in place that will allow us to meet all our international and domestic obligations, which we remain committed to. We have absolute confidence and belief that we will hit them…we are confident, absolutely confident, in our position. We’ve been through all the numbers, we’ve looked at the range of policies we have in place.”

The Good Law Project letter asks the government to disclose the analysis referred to by Sunak “as a matter of urgency”.

The government is likely to face fresh legal challenges over its net-zero strategy in light of Sunak’s speech, where the numbers attached to his rollbacks – and the likelihood of being able to still meet UK targets – would be tested by the courts.

The government’s original 2021 strategy was ruled unlawful by the High Court last year.

Why did Sunak make this speech?

The speech comes at a difficult time for Sunak and his Conservative party.

Trailing in the polls, the Conservatives will face a general election within the next 15 months in which they are likely to be beaten by Labour, a party that has pledged to spend £28bn a year to support low-carbon jobs and industry.

According to the Guardian, the government’s strategy team has identified climate policy as a key battleground in the coming months:

“With the prime minister’s electoral options narrowing, there is a desire to attack the opposition’s £28bn of spending on supporting the transition to net-zero.”

Sunak’s speech suggests he is seeking to emphasise his support for “hard-pressed British families” facing the additional cost of net-zero policies during an economic downturn.

Opponents of climate policies have consistently portrayed net-zero as “expensive for ordinary people”. This is in spite of analysis consistently showing that the average household ultimately stands to save thousands of pounds due to net-zero policies.

Sunak’s new approach also ties in with pre-existing sentiments of many on the right wing of the Conservative party.

Conservative backbenchers, as well as climate sceptics such as David Frost, have pushed hard for the 2030 petrol and diesel car ban, in particular, to be delayed. The imminent ban on new oil boilers in rural areas has also been strongly opposed. The party’s supportive newspapers, such as the Sun, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, have also campaigned relentlessly on these issues.

Polling tends to show broad support for a net-zero target across the country, including among Conservative members.

However, when polls drill down into the policies required to achieve net-zero, there is more dissent. One recent YouGov poll found that half of voters supported a delay to the petrol and diesel car ban, while one-third opposed it. (Although other polls have shown larger majorities in favour of keeping the 2030 ban.)

Among Conservative party members, 82% opposed the 2030 ban altogether, according to a self-selecting Conservative Home poll.

Nevertheless, overall, the British public appears to support more climate action from the government.

Polling conducted by political consultancy More In Common in the week of Sunak’s speech concluded that, by a 49-18 point margin, the public would prefer the government to do more rather than less to reach net-zero.

Another snap assessment found that 41% of people are “less likely” to vote Conservative if the government does not stick to the climate commitments it has made.

What has been the reaction to the announcement?

Sunak said misleadingly at the start of his speech that “we’ve stumbled into a consensus about the future of our country that no one seems to be happy with”.

Yet the response to the announcement suggests that many are not happy with the new political divide he is trying to form.

A range of politicians have decried the move, ranging from those in the UK, such as Ed Miliband and Caroline Lucas, through to international figures, such as Al Gore and the UN climate chief Simon Stiell, who have criticised the “shocking and really disappointing” changes.

Numerous Conservatives have also criticised the move including Boris JohnsonSir Alok Sharma and Simon Clarke, while Zac Goldsmith dubbed this “a moment of shame” and called for a snap general election.

Thinktanks, charities and other organisations, such as Greenpeace, the Trade Union’s Congress and the Conservative Environment Network, have slammed Sunak’s changes as “incoherent” climate politicking.

Similarly, much of the industry has voiced its opposition to the changes, including FordVaillantEV EnglandEon and others, who argue they will reduce industry confidence, putting investment at risk and, ultimately, cost consumers money.

Former Siemens UK CEO Juergen Maier said:

“It’s just chaos, isn’t it? It beggars belief…I’m honestly angry. Everybody [industry] is now sitting and wobbling and wondering. And I tell you what, they won’t be investing in the UK.”

Over 400 companies and civil society groups have already signed an open letter opposing the rollback.

But others have welcomed the changes, including politicians such as Liz TrussJacob Rees-MoggSuella Braverman, and newly appointed minister for energy security and net-zero Claire Coutinho.

Speaking to the BBC Today programme, Braverman said:

“The costs of achieving some of these arbitrary targets has to be taken into account. These goals are just that, goals, not straightjackets and we need to ensure that we work towards those goals in a sustainable way, a mature way, a pragmatic way.”

In contrast, right-leaning climate-sceptic lobby groups, such as the Countryside AllianceInstitute of Economic Affairs, and Net Zero Watch, were among those to welcome the delays to oil-boiler bans and the end to the sale of new petrol and diesel cars.

The media reaction has included a wide range of editorials and comments pieces, expansive coverage of which can be seen in Carbon Brief’s two most recent Daily Briefing email newsletters (21 September and 22 September).

Simon Evans

Dr Simon Evans is the deputy editor and policy editor for Carbon Brief. Simon covers climate and energy policy. He holds a PhD in biochemistry from Bristol University and previously studied chemistry at Oxford University. He worked for environment journal The ENDS Report for six years, covering topics including climate science and air pollution.