Rishi Sunak’s watering down of net-zero policies in the name of equality and fairness will not help to create a better UK

22 September, 2023

Gesche Huebner

Reading time: 3 minutes

Gesche Huebner argues that the PM’s revised policies are effectively “equality washing”.

On Wednesday, Rishi Sunak presented his revision of the UK’s net zero policiesOpens in a new tab as something “that eases the burdens on working people”, as a “fairer, better way” to reduce emissions – but really, this is “equality washing”.

As a general point, watering down the UK’s net-zero plans, which is effectively what Sunak has done, means more emissions and hence, more global warming. We know that climate change does not affect everyone equally, but rather increases inequalities and hits the most disadvantaged first and most. Of course, the UK delaying its emissions reduction is a drop in the ocean but if many countries took the same approach, this would accelerate global warming and its distributional negative effects, in the UK and worldwide.

Sunak announced pushing back the ban on new car sales with combustion engines which results in the population  being exposed to international oil prices for longer. Whilst overall inflation in the UK is easing, it has increased again from July to August for price of petrol and dieselOpens in a new tab and this trend might well continue. Delaying the mandate of electric vehicles will reduce the number of EVs available on the second-hand market where the majority of car salesOpens in a new tab happen, and where especially those on lower incomes but in need of a car will buy their vehicle.

Delaying the introduction of heat pumps through aiming for only an 80% phase-out of gas boilers by 2035 and an 80% phase-out target of off-grid oil boilers by 2035 again locks us into fossil fuel use and hence international price volatility for longer. The huge increase in gas prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine largely triggered the cost-of-living crisis in the UK; relying more on home-generated renewable energy would provide a buffer against such price shocks.

The exposure to higher energy prices due to turmoil on international markets would particularly hit lower-income households that spend a larger share of income on energy.

Sunak scrapped the requirement for landlords to improve the energy efficiency of buildings. Hence, many renters will continue living in energy-inefficient homes that are hard and expensive to heat. In fact, people might be unable to afford heating them to healthy temperatures, and cold, damp homes have been linked to negative physicalOpens in a new tab and mental healthOpens in a new tab outcomes which in turn can contribute to a downward spiral of reduced economic activity, hence less income, making it even harder to afford better housing and worsening health further.

Sunak confirmed there would be no frequent flier levy. Flying is highly unequally distributedOpens in a new tab in the UK, with about 50% of the population not taking any flights in any given year and 15% of the population responsible for 70% of all flights. Introducing a frequent flier levy and using the revenue generated to subsidise public transport would have been a progressive measure to support those on lower income.

So, in summary, Rishi Sunak’s revision of net-zero policies under the guise of helping the British people will indeed not to do that, nor will it help the planet.

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