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Prime Minister's net zero announcement "reckless and inept" says West Midlands environmental group

A West Midlands environmental campaign group has hit out at the net zero announcement by the Prime Minister.

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The Prime Minister has been criticised for weakening net zero targets, such as a ban on new cars

Friends of the Earth has joined other organisations in hitting out at Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after he confirmed that several key green policies would be weakened and he would be scrapping some that were never firm proposals, such as compulsory car sharing or meat taxes.

Mr Sunak insisted he was acting to avoid a public "backlash" by watering down efforts to tackle the climate crisis as he faced fierce criticism from green-minded Tories, environmentalists and industry figures.

In a speech from Downing Street on Wednesday, the Prime Minister announced a major U-turn by putting back a ban on new fossil fuel cars by five years as he claimed his raft of changes was "not about the politics".

He weakened plans to strip out polluting gas and oil boilers and scrapped policies forcing landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of homes.

Mr Sunak insisted the UK was already ahead of allies in reducing emissions and could not impose "unacceptable costs" on British families.

"The risk here to those of us who care about reaching net zero, as I do, is simple: if we continue down this path we risk losing the consent of the British people," he said.

"And the resulting backlash would not just be against specific policies but against the wider mission itself, meaning we might never achieve our goal."

An environmental campaign group also warned that the Prime Minister is sailing into dangerous legal waters with his climate policy reversals because legally-binding targets are highly unlikely to be met despite Rishi Sunak stating he is still committed to them, let alone the tougher international 2030 target of 68 per cent emission cuts.

West Midlands Friends of the Earth’s campaigner, Chris Crean, said: “Rishi Sunak is being environmentally reckless and economically inept.

“Building a green economy is the best way to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, boost energy security and strengthen the economy. Weakening these green policies will simply undermine business confidence and put British jobs at risk.

“The government is already being taken to court over its weak and feeble climate action plan, which we say is unlawful. If this current package is weakened further, and in a way that’s not transparent about delivery risks, then further legal challenges are inevitable.

“With the world in the midst of a climate crisis we need bold political leadership, not another Prime Minister posturing to a narrow section of his own party for perceived short-term electoral gains.

The consequences won’t just fall on people in the UK, but they will reverberate globally.”

Earlier this year Friends of the Earth mounted a legal challenge (along with ClientEarth and Good Law Project) over the government’s current climate action strategy, the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP), and its failure to publish assessments it carried out on how confident they are on the policies in the plan being delivered.

More than 400 organisations from across the country, including Chester Zoo, have written an open letter expressing their deep concerns around the plans.

The letter reads: "We are deeply concerned by media reports that you are considering weakening net zero policies related to insulating homes, rolling out clean heat and driving take up of electric vehicles.

"The business community has already made substantial investments in the net zero transition and made it clear that sticking to long-term net zero policies is crucial to build business confidence and mobilise investment.

"Watering down these policies would damage the UK’s credibility as a good place for green investment, undermining British competitiveness.

"We are already losing investment to the US and EU, and rowing back would make it worse.

"The Office for Budget Responsibility has recently highlighted the economic benefits of rapid action on net zero, and the increased fiscal and debt risks associated with delay.

"Smart policies to boost clean technologies like electric vehicles and efficient, low carbon heating and more support for the most vulnerable will lower the cost of living.

"Sticking with petrol cars and gas boilers increases it. Slowing down the development of clean tech leaves households exposed to volatile fossil fuel markets for longer and puts jobs at risk.

"It is also costly for the public purse, which spent £40 billion last winter subsidising household energy bills.

"We urge you not to weaken any net zero policies. If you do so, we believe this would be a historic mistake of your premiership, which could do lasting damage to the UK economy.

"It would also undermine the UK’s international climate leadership at a time when the disastrous effects of climate change are impacting the UK and rest of the world, including the recent flooding in Libya and forest fires in Greece.

"Now is not the time to delay in the face of the greatest threat facing the world. Now is the time for action."

Mr Sunak has insisted he was standing by the legally binding goal of hitting net zero by 2050 despite making changes including delaying the ban on new cars and vans running solely on petrol and diesel from 2030 to 2035.

Other changes would include weakening the plan to phase out gas boilers from 2035 so households that will struggle the most to switch to heat pumps will not have to make the switch, putting back the ban on boilers relying on heating oil in off-grid homes from 2026 to 2035 and scrapping policies to force landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their properties, instead seeking to encourage them to make the switch.

Mr Sunak detailed the plans to the public after putting them to Cabinet ministers in a hastily arranged call in response to a leak of his net-zero plans to the BBC.

Speaking from his press briefing room in front of a podium brandishing the Tory conference slogan of "long-term decisions for a brighter future", he claimed previous governments - both Tory and Labour - had sought to get to net zero "simply by wishing it".

He said: "It cannot be right for Westminster to impose such significant costs on working people, especially those who are already struggling to make ends meet and to interfere so much in people's way of life without a properly informed national debate."

Mr Sunak insisted he was taking a "more pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach that eases the burdens on families" and said he believes the move will command "broad support" in time.

He was forging ahead with weakening the approach despite staunch criticism from climate campaigners, the car industry and former prime minister Boris Johnson.