Those who follow the news will have seen the headlines on Rishi Sunak’s decision to backtrack on some of the UK’s climate policies. The British Prime Minister has reversed several of his climate change commitments, sparking widespread anger and backlash from the public. What do these changes mean for the environment? Sunak had promised net zero by 2050, and still promises to achieve this; just in a “more proportionate way”. However, experts believe that his policy changes will make the process much more difficult. In order to analyse the impacts of the policy changes on Britons and the environment, we must first have a look at the changes made.
Firstly, Sunak has decided to delay the ban on new petrol and diesel cars by five years, meaning these types of cars will be produced and sold until 2035. He has also announced a significant change to plans concerning boilers. Originally, he planned to phase out the installation of gas boilers by 2035, but now he is only hoping for an 80% phase out. Moreover, he said that he wanted the ban of off-grid oil boilers by 2026, but this has once again been pushed back to 2035 with only an 80% phase out target. Finally, Sunak has announced he will no longer require homeowners and landlords to invest in expensive insulation in order to meet energy efficiency targets.
Now, the potential environmental impacts become clearer. In recent years, the vast effects petrol and diesel cars have had on the environment have come to light. Petrol and diesel cars use non-renewable fossil fuels as fuel, which ultimately contribute to climate change and thus global warming. Driving one mile on diesel fuel on average emits 404 grams of CO2 into our environment, and one mile on petrol emits around 400 grams. This has caused people to question if five more years of production will jeopardise Sunak’s goal of being net zero by 2050.
Boilers have a much less well-cited effect on the environment yet still contribute massively to climate change. Boilers commonly use gas, oil, and coal as fuel to generate steam which can be used for space heating, hot water, and the generation of electrical power. By-products of this process are very harmful greenhouse gases. In fact, gas boilers within the UK produce 20% of all the nitrogen oxide produced by the UK. Along with this, the boilers produce carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, which both have notoriously very negative effects on the environment.
The UK has some of the most poorly insulated homes in all of Europe. Every year £770,000,000 is wasted on energy that dissipates out of our homes due to poor insulation. Insulation is designed to limit the flow of energy: in other words, to keep heat inside a building. They thus reduce the need to keep appliances which heat up the house, such as radiators, on all the time. Good insulation is crucial for the environment because it reduces the demand for energy, and thus, in the longer term, reduces pressure on natural resources. So, the fact the British Prime Minister has scrapped the idea to require homeowners and landlords to make insulation upgrades does not bode well for the environment. The policy would have required a significant upgrade to insulation within British homes yet Sunak decided to scrap it due to concerns about cost.
With the climate problem growing ever fiercer, these policy changes seem to be making a move, but in the wrong direction. While Sunak continues to promise net carbon emissions by 2050, with these changes, this is looking like a tall order. Sunak seems to be prioritising the economy over the environment; but is this the right approach, considering the state of the climate right now?