Why do the government insist on making it harder for themselves to reach net zero?

NationalWorld environment specialist Amber Allott says the if the Conservatives water down their net zero pledges, they're shooting themselves in the foot
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Wednesday once again saw top Tory MPs parroting a now familiar line - that the government is committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050, while announcing something that appears it would do just the opposite.

In a speech on Wednesday afternoon, the Prime Minister announced the ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles - originally set for 2030 - would be pushed back five years, amid a raft of other changes, following media reports that he was planning to row back on green targets this week.

While the general weakening has been slammed by red, blue, and green political pundits alike - as well as the vehicle manufacturing industry and climate campaigners - experts seem divided over whether the government's net zero by 2050 target will still be achievable with the policy rollbacks.

Rolling back policies that support the government's own targets will just make their jobs harder (NationalWorld/Getty/Adobe Stock)Rolling back policies that support the government's own targets will just make their jobs harder (NationalWorld/Getty/Adobe Stock)
Rolling back policies that support the government's own targets will just make their jobs harder (NationalWorld/Getty/Adobe Stock)

Dr George Adamson, a reader in climate and society at King’s College London, said changing deadlines and incentives will make it more difficult to, "although not impossible".

But Neil Strachan, the director of UCL Bartlett's school of environment, energy and resources, said energy modelling studies showed that only with the strongest level of governance nationally and locally – with targets continually strengthened when they are met – can net zero be achieved by 2050.

The softening and rethinking of green policies in recent months is largely thought to be fallout from the Uxbridge by-election, where Labour's narrow loss was attributed to London Mayor Sadiq Khan's locally-unpopular ULEZ expansion.

If this truly is an attempt to cash in on that sentiment, then surely the Tories are shooting themselves in the foot.

Winding back climate policies that may be unpopular with a select few in the short-term - while also maintaining long-term targets like net zero 2050 which appeal to the many Britons who want a greener future - sure seems like an attempt to secure a Conservative victory in the next election.

But what then? What are they going to do if they win, and suddenly they have all of these climate targets to meet, but no means to actually reach them.

It sounds like a one-way ticket to broken promises, but more than that, a one-way ticket to a future where the UK government has less ability to protect its people from feeling the very worst effects of climate change.

As University of Oxford energy policy professor Gavin Killip says, reaching net zero by 2050 "will not be achieved by waiting until the 2030s or 2040s to get started".

The UK needs to be further down the decarbonisation route than it currently is, he said, "so this is a time to reinforce policy commitment and investment, not take it away".

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