Updated Sep 21, 2023

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Key net zero pledges delayed

On Wednesday 20 September, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged "a fairer path" to delivering on the UK's 2050 net zero target, by delaying the implementation of many key green policies.

In 2019 the UK government pledged that all UK greenhouse gas emissions will be net zero by 2050. This is an ambitious target and the UK was one of the first countries in the world to make such a pledge. In order to achieve this a broad spectrum of policies have been put in place to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Sunak stated that because of the progress the UK had already made in cutting emissions, this has given us "space to take a more pragmatic, proportionate, and realistic approach to reaching net zero".

He said: "We’re absolutely not slowing down efforts to combat climate change. I’m very proud of our country’s leadership. We’ve decarbonised faster than any other major economy in the G7".

The government claim this 'over-delivery' justifies delaying key green policies, and further argue that the changes will help families to save money and maintain public support for green pledges.

So, which green policies are being watered down, and what do these delays really mean in practice?

Phasing out petrol and diesel cars by 2030 delayed

In 2020, then Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a "historic step towards net zero", by announcing a ban on the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030.

This ban will now be delayed by five years to 2035. The government say this will bring the UK in line with EU countries and will allow families to take advantage of "falling prices over the coming decade".

However some experts disagree and have criticised the delay. Director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, Peter Chalkley, has came out and said the changes would actually end up costing consumers more.

Policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Bob Ward said: "Delaying the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars would mean that UK drivers will remain exposed to the volatility of international oil prices, which are rising due to cuts by major producers such as Saudi Arabia and Russia. The UK’s dependence on fossil fuels is costly and economically damaging".

There has also been criticism that the UK's moving goalposts for pledges may also cause the car manufacturing industry to lose confidence in the UK market.

Energy efficient rental sector

Whilst some green pledges have been delayed, others will be scrapped. Sunak announced requirements for landlords to ensure their rental properties meet minimum energy efficiency targets will be scrapped.

In an attempt to reduce the UK's carbon footprint, make buildings more energy efficient and ensure lower energy costs for tenants, the government mandated that newly rented buildings must achieve an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of 'C' or better from April 2025. For landlords with existing rented properties, they were given a deadline of until 2028 to ensure their properties achieved a 'C' or higher rating.

Now, Sunak has abandoned these rules for landlords, saying that no property owners would be "forced into making expensive upgrades", but they should improve on energy efficiency measures when they can.

Whilst this may seem like a good cost saving measure for landlords, the scrapping of these targets has sparked widespread condemnation.

Research in 2022 found that UK homes are some of the "coldest, oldest and leakiest" housing stock in Europe. Chief executive of the National Housing Federation, Kate Henderson, commented: "England’s homes are among the oldest and draughtiest in Europe. Making homes more energy efficient is a win-win, not only helping to save our planet, but also boosting our economy by creating jobs and, crucially, saving money".

She called the government's scrapping of energy efficiency targets for rental properties "hugely disappointing", and stated "our research found that retrofitting homes would save social housing residents on average 40% on heating bills. Scrapping targets on this could lead to people facing higher bills for years to come".

Her comments are supported by Dan Wilson Craw, Deputy chief executive of Generation Rent, who commented that "One in four private renters lives in fuel poverty and without targets for landlords to improve their properties, they face many more years of unaffordable bills".

There are also concerns over the health impacts such a move may have on tenants, senior economist at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Rachelle Earwaker, called the scrapping of targets "ill advised and ill considered". Adding: "If we don’t invest in energy-efficient housing and more sustainable and affordable energy solutions, the only certainty is frighteningly high energy bills and poor health outcomes".

From the landlords perspective, there are many landlords who have already spent money and implemented measures to improve the energy efficiency of their properties, so to now have these targets scrapped will be frustrating.

Chief Executive of the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), Ben Beadle, has said that the NRLA wants all properties to be as energy efficient as possible. He commented that uncertainty over the government's energy efficiency policy has been "hugely damaging to the supply of rented properties".

He added: "It is welcome that landlords will not be required to invest substantial sums of money during a cost-of-living crisis when many are themselves struggling financially. However, ministers need to use the space they are creating to develop a full plan that supports the rental market to make the energy efficiency improvements we all want to see".


There were a few changes announced relating to household boilers.

Firstly, the ban on the installation of new oil and LPG boilers for off-gas-grid homes, has been pushed back from 2026 to 2035.

The 2026 ban was always contentious as it posed a real challenge for approximately 1.7 million homes in off-grid rural areas across the UK which rely predominantly on oil-fired boilers for heating. There were concerns that many of these homes would not be suitable for heat pumps, and many households affected would be faced with boiler replacement bills of upwards of £10,000 once the ban came in to force.

On a related note there was also a new exemption announced relating to the phase out of fossil fuel boilers, including gas, in 2035 which is expected to affect about a fifth of UK homes. The exemption means that households who will struggle to make the switch to heat pumps or other low-carbon alternatives won't have to.

Sunak also declared an increase in the grants available for boiler upgrades for those who want to change to a more energy efficient boiler. The grant will increase from £5000 to £7000.

The increased grants available for 'greener boilers' has been welcomed, but critics question if the delays to boiler bans actually benefit households at all. 

Director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, Peter Chalkley, commented: "The fact is the gas boiler and petrol car phase-out aren’t set to have any impact on those struggling with bills for at least a decade. The boiler phase-out would start in 2035 but only for those whose boiler breaks".

While Bob Ward, Policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said: "The prime minister appears to have forgotten that the current cost of living crisis has been triggered by a huge increase in the price of natural gas following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the UK would have suffered less if it had moved more quickly to embrace clean electricity and clean alternatives to gas central heating".

One area of uncertainty that remains around boilers following Sunak's latest announcement is in relation to the target for all new homes to be built with an alternative to a gas boiler after 2025. There was no confirmation by Downing Street if this target still remains or has been delayed or scrapped.

Sustainable behaviour proposals

Sunak has also pre-emptively scrapped a number of policy ideas which were focused on encouraging more sustainable behaviour.

The government announced they were ruling out 'worrying proposals that would interfere in the way people live their lives'. These so called 'worrying proposals' include policy ideas to:

  • require car sharing;
  • reduce meat and dairy consumption;
  • increase the number of household recycling bins; and
  • taxes to discourage frequent flying.

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