Rishi Sunak is planning to stay on the right side of strict carbon emission laws by cashing in on Britain’s projected “over performance” over the next decade, The Telegraph understands.
The Prime Minister and Claire Coutinho, the Net Zero Secretary, are believed to have concluded that the Government will be able to capitalise on an expected surplus in emissions in order to push back deadlines such as the 2030 ban on selling petrol cars, without breaching strict carbon budgets.
It is understood that internal estimates showed that the changes, including pushing back the 2030 ban by five years and weakening the phase-out of gas boilers, were projected to increase emissions by only five per cent.
However, the Government is likely to face opposition from environmental groups and the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the statutory watchdog, which opposed a similar move during Theresa May’s final weeks in office, in June 2019. Mrs May and Lord Hammond, the then chancellor, were accused of attempting to “fiddle” climate change targets.
Chris Stark, the CCC’s chief executive, suggested it was “wishful thinking” to believe that the Government’s revised plans would “hit the legal targets that this country has set in law through the Climate Change Act.”
Sam Fankhauser, Professor of Climate Change Economics and Policy at Oxford University, confirmed to The Telegraph that the Net Zero Secretary “indeed [has] the right to carry ‘unused carbon’ into the next budget period” but warned that she would need to consult the devolved administrations and the CCC, which “has always made it clear they would not recommend any carry over.”
As a result of the Labour-era Climate Change Act, a series of five-year “carbon budgets” restrict carbon emissions to set levels, the most recent of which was enshrined in law by Boris Johnson in 2021, for the period between 2033 and 2037.
It is that period to which the Government could carry over a surplus from earlier budget periods. In 2019, Philip Hammond, now Lord Hammond, carried over 88 megatonnes (million tonnes) of carbon pollution from the second carbon budget, from 2013 to 2017, after Britain emitted 384 megatonnes below the budget’s cap of 2,782 megatonnes.
Figures published by the Government show that the Government is projected to reduce emissions by 121 megatonnes less than the cap set for the fourth carbon budget, from 2023 to 2027, and 399 less than the cap for the next period, up until 2032.
Andrea Leadsom, the former energy secretary, suggested the Government should go further and change the Climate Change Act, saying the carbon budgets were a “straitjacket that make no business sense”.
Mr Sunak’s new approach on net zero was welcomed by Lord Hammond.
He said: “Rishi Sunak has identified that problem and he’s seen a political advantage in it. It’s not that people don’t want to do net zero, it’s that they don’t want to be taken for granted.”
The Prime Minister had caused a dilemma for Sir Keir Starmer, he said, claiming the Labour leader was simultaneously trying to pitch to environmentally conscious younger people as well as working-class voters in the party’s former heartlands.
“Now Starmer has been put on the spot - is it green, or is it white van man? It can’t be both,” Lord Hammond said.