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Net Zero Rollback Scrutinized By UK Conservatives

  • A survey by think tank Onward found 49% of 2019 Conservative voters support net zero, with only a fifth opposing.
  • The Prime Minister's decision to delay green initiatives faced criticism from some Tory MPs, the auto industry, and climate advocates.
  • The Energy Security and Net Zero Committee raised concerns about the implications and financial impact of the policy changes on the public.

New polling has shown Conservative voters still support net zero, don’t blame the policy for the cost of living and want the government to help them go green – which may give the Prime Minister pause for thought after his net zero U-turn.

A survey by right-leaning think tank Onward found 49 percent of voters who voted Conservative in 2019 support net zero – while only one fifth opposed it.

Adam Hawksbee, deputy director of Onward, said the polling showed there was “no political reward from pausing net zero”.

The data comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed the rolling back of green pledges including the delay to the petrol and diesel car sales ban until 2035 and extending the deadline to install heat pumps as well as introducing exemptions.

Sunak’s move was criticised by some Conservative MPs, the auto-industry and climate campaigners who branded it “unnecessary” and “damaging”.

Some commentators saw the speech as ‘electioneering’ and an attempt to capitalise on the Uxbridge by-election, in which the Tories held onto the seat potentially thanks to a backlash to Ulez, an environmental policy.

Announcing the net zero rollback, Sunak said: “If we continue down this path [of un-modified goals] we risk losing the consent of the British people… meaning we might never achieve our goal.”

However, Onward’s survey suggests that the consent of the British people may not have been at risk after all. Conservative voters back diesel scrappage schemes (45 percent), tax incentives (52 percent), financial support to insulate homes (49 percent) and slashing VAT on public charging points (41 percent).

Sunak also said he aimed to hit net zero while “easing the burden on working people” but Onward’s survey found that more voters blamed Liz Truss’s premiership than net zero for higher taxes.

Sunak also reiterated that the UK would still hit net zero by 2050, with the commitment legally binding.

Adam Hawksbee, deputy director of Onward, said: “There’s no political reward from pausing net zero, and the Prime Minister was right to reject those siren calls in his speech. But he needs to back up his approach with popular policies to help people insulate draughty homes, move to renewable energy and afford electric vehicles.”

However Siobhan Baillie MP said: “This Onward research shows Rishi was right to put families’ finances first when it comes to our net zero ambitions.

“It’s clear from this poll that Conservatives can lead on this pragmatic, ‘stepping stone approach’ to meet the target and they should continue to focus on real life net zero policies that help, not force, people to go green.”

The polling follows a letter written by the Energy Security and Net Zero Committee in which members – who are majority Conservative – raised concerns about Sunak’s net zero modifications.

The Energy Security and Net Zero Committee’s (ESNZ) letter also questioned whether the delays in implementing certain policies would actually make anything cheaper for the average person. 

The letter calls for clarity on the financial impact of the policy changes on the public and the government’s analysis of the costs and benefits of delaying net zero policies.

Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, chair of the ESNZ Committee, said: “The cross-party consensus on driving the actions needed to combat climate change has been in place for many years, so the Prime Minister’s about turn on policies that people and industries have long been gearing up for has understandably provoked widespread concern. 


“Alarm bells are ringing over the government’s ambitions when it comes to its environmental agenda. We need urgent clarity on the consequences of the new approach and reassurance that it will not derail the UK’s progress towards net zero.”

Claire Coutinho, the secretary of state for energy security and net zero, is due to appear before the Committee on 8 November to address the committee’s concerns.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero was contacted for comment.

By CityAM

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