Rishi Sunak backtracks on UK climate commitments and unleashes a wave of criticism | International

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This time even Boris Johnson has placed himself on the right side of history, even if it is because of the same opportunism that has always guided his political career. The former British Prime Minister has joined the huge number of voices that have attacked the current tenant of Downing Street, Rishi Sunak, for his decision – with a clearly electoralist reek – to lower or delay the United Kingdom's commitments in the fight against climate change. “Companies must have certainty regarding our commitment to achieving zero emissions,” defended Johnson, who promoted many of these commitments during his mandate. “We cannot afford to fail now in any way, nor reduce the level of ambition of our country,” he argued in a public statement.

Sunak's government team has entered a "state of panic", as anonymous internal sources have assured various British media, after Downing Street's plans to lower already committed climate ambitions, such as the ban on the sale of new petrol or diesel vehicles from 2030. The barrage of criticism has fallen on Downing Street from all directions. Environmental organizations, activists, scientists, opposition parties, many of the conservative deputies themselves and, above all, an industry whose energy plans were designed to meet objectives that today have been diluted for purely partisan reasons. This Wednesday, the prime minister called an emergency meeting of his ministers to approve the plan, and appeared at a press conference to try to regain the initiative and control the public discourse around his proposal.

Sunak is convinced that the maneuver will have the support of the electorate of the so-called “red wall” constituencies in the north of England. They are all those voters who traditionally supported Labor and who in 2019 gave their massive support to the Conservative Party and Johnson's Brexit. The current prime minister believes that the measure, intended in theory to alleviate the economic pressure that environmental commitments put on the most vulnerable households, will place the Labor opposition in apparent contradiction and question its economic credibility.

The reasons behind that logic date back to last July. The voters of the Uxbridge constituency went to the polls to elect the deputy who was to replace Johnson, who had permanently resigned from his seat. The surveys, and the political intuition of the toriesthey considered that parliamentary seat lost when, to their surprise, they managed to retain it against the Labor Party by a few hundred votes. All the analysts agreed in pointing out as the reason for this victory the harsh speech of the conservatives against the decision of the mayor of London, the Labor Party Sadiq Khan, to double the perimeter of the ULEZ - to include Uxbridge -, the low emissions zone. in which vehicles that do not meet minimum levels must pay a daily rate of 14.50 euros.

The Prime Minister maintains the commitment made by the United Kingdom to achieve zero emissions by 2050 (that is, achieving a zero-sum balance between emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere - carbon dioxide and methane - and the elimination of atmosphere of those same gases), but delays or reduces some of the objectives announced in previous years to achieve that goal. “There is nothing ambitious about setting a goal to simply achieve a favorable press headline in the short term, without being honest with citizens when defining the tough decisions we will have to make,” said Sunak, in an attack clearly aimed at Johnson. “And without a real democratic debate taking place about how we are going to achieve those objectives. As the Committee for Climate Change has said, one does not reach the level of zero emissions simply by wishing for it,” he concluded.

The measures announced

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The main measure announced by Sunak has been to delay by five years, from 2030 to 2035, the ban on the sale of new gasoline or diesel vehicles, also accompanied by the guarantee that these same vehicles can be purchased for many more years on the market. second hand.

The Government also extends until 2035 the obligation to replace gas heaters in homes with heat pumps. And from that date, in any case, it will only impose that change on those homes that need to change their heater. It also increases to 8,700 euros the subsidies that citizens can obtain to carry out this reform of the heating system.

Finally, in a tone that clearly sought the applause of the hardest wing of the conservatives, Sunak has promised to get rid of a list of commitments that he has defined as “worrying”, and that have been part of the proposals considered in recent years. There are four: the number of passengers a vehicle can carry; the obligation to have up to seven different garbage cans at home for recycling; the idea of ​​creating new taxes to force people to eat less meat or fly less on commercial airplanes; and, finally, impose new bans on oil and gas drilling in the North Sea.

Criticism from all fronts

It was foreseeable that the main environmental organizations would charge against Sunak's plans, but what was surprising—and worrying, for many conservatives—was the harsh reaction that emerged among the business community. “The UK's 2030 target is a key catalyst to accelerate Ford's plans towards a cleaner future,” Lisa Brankin, the president of FordUK, the car giant's British subsidiary, said in a public statement. “Our industry needs three things from the British Government: ambition, commitment and consistency. The relaxation of the 2030 target undermines all three,” she accused Sunak.

Zac Goldsmith, who resigned as Minister of Energy, Climate and Environment last June and accused Sunak of not having the slightest interest in the fight against climate change, today demanded early elections on his X account (formerly Twitter): “I have received hundreds of messages from Conservative friends in Government, Parliament and around the world, saying that this decision by the Prime Minister vindicates the loud way in which I resigned. I don't want to be vindicated. We need elections now,” Goldsmith wrote.

However, there have also been many conservative MPs who have applauded Sunak's decision, convinced that it will help them in an election year that looks complicated. “Common sense has to prevail. “Rishi is right,” proclaimed MP Ben Bradley. “There is a majority in favor of the zero emissions goal, but only the craziest want us to be colder and poorer on that path,” wrote MP Mark Jenkinson.

The Labor Party, which polls place as the clear winner of the elections that must be held within a year, has made the “green economy” its main programmatic proposal, to boost the economic growth of the United Kingdom, and already assumes that The fight against climate change will be the central issue of the electoral battle.

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