Sunak rolls back net zero commitments


The Prime Minister has announced that he will defer or cancel some of his government’s key climate policies. In a speech that was broadcast live, Sunak framed the current approach to net zero as too reliant on government and too ideologically driven. In a break from the Conservatives 2019 manifesto which promised that the UK would be a world leader on reaching net zero, Sunak proposed slower, less ambitious action on climate in order to reduce costs.

Home energy efficiency

While some of the announcements in Sunak’s speech were not substantive policy changes, some sectors will see a step change. Previously, landlords were set to be required to ensure their properties were rated EPC E or higher from 2025 (with some exemptions), with government proposals for this to rise to EPC C by 2028. These regulations will be scrapped.

The Energy Efficiency Taskforce, a group of experts in industry and policymaking brought together by the government, is being disbanded just months after it was first convened. The government insists that its target to reduce emissions from buildings by 15% by 2030, which this group was to advise on, is still in place.

Domestic heat

Domestic heat policy was also watered down. The planned phase out of fossil fuel boiler installation for homes off the gas grid was pushed back from 2026 to 2035. While the bans on installing gas boilers in new homes in 2025 and in properties on the gas grid in 2035 remain, the government is planning to introduce several exemptions enabling some households to purchase gas boilers after their phase out dates. Few details have been released, but around one fifth of all properties are expected to be eligible to install gas boilers past the deadlines based on their ability to pay.

Sunak did commit to providing more financial support to households looking to install heat pumps. The grants available through the boiler upgrade scheme are set to be increased from £5000 to £7,500 per property. So far this scheme has enabled the installation of some 21,000 heat pumps towards the government target of installing 600,000 a year by 2028, a target it is still apparently committed to.

Sunak’s speech represents a scaling back of ambition on net zero and a broader failure by the government to deliver on its aims in key sectors. The green homes grant, the government’s flagship environmental scheme at the start of the Parliament, was supposed to enable energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation targets to be met. After it was scrapped in 2022, it was not replaced and the government allowed these crucial policy areas to drift. Without a coherent plan to meet the scale of the challenge, the government will continue to miss its remaining targets.

Spatial plan

Sunak identified the lack of capacity on the national grid as a major barrier to achieving net zero. He committed to bringing forward a new set of reforms and a spatial plan aimed at speeding up connection for energy projects. No details as to what the plan will contain have been published so far.

Connecting to the grid has been a key blocker to many community energy projects, which have the potential to deliver far greater community social and economic benefits than commercial developments. CEE will promote a ‘Community Right to Connect’ that would give community energy projects priority in connecting to the grid.