Rishi Sunak’s recent policy shift weakens the government’s green policy commitments – and the impact cannot be underestimated. Here, Buildpass investigates.
Last month, Rishi Sunak announced that the Conservative government would be rolling back on some of their key green policies as part of a major policy shift. A new think-tank report noted that this has put the UK in ‘reverse gear’ in the global race for environmental stability.
This watering-down of the UK’s net zero policies was presented as a way to save the people of the UK money and to stop the ‘risk (of) losing the consent of the British people and the resulting backlash against specific policies and the wider mission itself.’
We believe, however, that this is incredibly concerning for – as Sunak described – the wider mission itself. If we want any hope of hitting net-zero by 2050, then the country needs to be focused on the sustainable agenda, not distracted from it.
Here we go through the key policies Sunak has decided to change, and what this could mean for the environmental landscape.
Perhaps the most worrying for the sustainable construction industry, Sunak announced changes with regards to minimum energy efficiency standards for rental properties.
The 2018 ‘Minimum Level of Energy Efficiency’ standard meant that all rental properties had to meet an energy performance certificate (EPC) of E or higher. There were additional proposals that stated all existing privately rented properties should increase this to an EPC rating of C or above by 2028.
Now, Sunak has said that while the government will continue to subsidise energy efficiency, it would not be forced.
This goes directly against evidence that almost all of England’s 24m homes need to be upgraded with either energy-efficiency measures, low-carbon heating or both. And with the built environment contributing to an average of 40% of global energy-related carbon emissions and 50% of all extracted materials – plus the UK having some of the most badly insulated housing stock in Europe – it’s nonsensical to remove the important focus on improving the energy efficiency of our properties.
Before now, gas boilers were due to be phased out for 2035. Now, the aim is just an 80% phase-out, with no set rules or requirements that you have to change your boiler.
We know that heat pumps are a fantastic way to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Plus, while Sunak has stated that the shift in policy is to save people money, it fails to acknowledge one of the core reasons behind the current cost of living crisis: the huge increase in the price of natural gas. Unless the UK moves more rapidly towards clean electricity and alternatives to gas central heating, the crisis will only continue with enormous ripple effects on the environment.
New cars with combustion engines – petrol and diesel cars, plus vans – were due to be banned from sale by 2030: this has now been pushed back to 2035.
Sunak has said by 2030 ‘the vast majority of cars sold’ would be electric, but he said he believed that ‘at least for now, it should be you the consumer that makes that choice, not the government forcing you to do it’.
The overall mindset behind these decisions downplays how important the green agenda is, and how vital it is that everyone prioritises the steps that they personally need to take to support it.
Transport accounts for around 30% of global carbon emissions, and 72% of these emissions come from road transportation. Sunak also said that ‘even after 2035, you’ll still be able to buy and sell them second-hand’ – again, something that feels entirely out of line with the facts that we are well aware of.
What other policies has Sunak backtracked on?
In addition, Sunak has shelved the introduction of an annual levy to cover the costs of producing low-carbon hydrogen – instead of fossil fuels – for energy at home. He has also ruled out policy plans asking people to share cars, eat less dairy and meat and increase their bins to hit recycling targets. He has also made clear that the party will not be taking forward any plans to encourage more sustainable behaviour, such as taxing airlines or sharing public information on the carbon footprint of meat.
The Buildpass expert opinion.
Here at Buildpass, nothing will change.
We are still 100% committed to pushing forward the green agenda with our work on sustainable construction. Whether this is backed by the government or not, this will always be our ultimate priority.
Therefore, our advice, training, consultation and support will centre entirely around this. Because we want your home to be as energy efficient as possible – for you, your tenants, the community and the planet.