Energy secretary Claire Coutinho has been asked to provide watchdog MPs with her department’s analysis of the financial impact of prime minister Rishi Sunak’s policy changes delaying milestones on the road meeting the government’s net-zero commitments.
Members of parliament’s Energy Security and Net Zero Select Committee said they wanted to see “any analysis” suggesting there would be no negative impacts from permitting the sale of brand-new petrol and diesel cars until 2035 and other changes announced by the PM last month.
Those controversial measures included allowing the installation of new gas boilers in homes until 2035 and dropping a requirement for landlords to upgrade the least energy-efficient homes.
No.10 said the changes to the government’s previous plans to make the UK a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050 were aimed at reducing costs for British families and maintaining public support for reaching net zero. Sunak insisted the UK would still hit its 2050 target for reaching net zero.
In a letter to the secretary of state published at the end of last week, ESNZ committee chair Angus Brendan MacNeil said Sunak appeared to be undermining gains made by previous administrations and questioned whether the measures would ease financial burdens for most people.
“We recognise the issues raised by the prime minister on pushing government spending on net zero when the country faces challenges on costs of living,” he said. “We fail to understand, however, how the announced delays will actually make anything cheaper for the average person.
“It would seem that costs are simply being delayed, possibly to a time when those costs will be higher. Indeed, part of the reason for pushing green industries in the UK and facilitating switching to net-zero alternatives, at scale, is to reduce the costs to consumers.
“We would like to see what analysis the government has made about the costs to individual households in the UK and how changing the timescales will reduce the impacts upon them.”
MacNeil added that ministers had previously stressed the economic-growth benefits that would result from the UK playing a leading role in achieving net zero.
“The prime minister’s statement would suggest that those ministers were simply being wishful and that there were no economic benefits, and therefore the proposed delays would not sacrifice any of those notional gains,” he said. “We would, in the principle of honest debate, like to see any analysis the government has made to demonstrate that there would be no-costs in delaying these net-zero policies.”
In his September speech announcing changes to the government’s net-zero milestones, Sunak bemoaned the lack of parliamentary debate about carbon budgets and their impacts.
He said the last carbon-budget process had been debated in the House of Commons for just 17 minutes and voted through with “barely any consideration given to the hard choices needed to fulfil it”.
Sunak said that when parliament voted on future carbon budgets, he wanted to see MPs “consider the plans to meet that budget, at the same time”.
Committee chair MacNeil said that when there is cross-party consensus on issues, there is rarely a need to allocate time to debating them.
“We would like to know how Mr Sunak proposes using more parliamentary time to consider future carbon budgets,” MacNeil wrote in his letter to Coutinho.
“We would like to understand whether he intends to diverge sufficiently from the previous cross-party consensus that debate on the floor of the House will be inevitable.”
The letter noted that Sunak had chosen not set out his net-zero reforms in parliament because they were announced after the House of Commons went into recess for party conference season.
Coutinho is due to appear before the ESNZ committee in early November.