London: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday defended his shift in climate action policy as a pragmatic and realistic approach towards delivering the country's Net Zero target, amid criticism over proposed delays in certain measures.
A day after his speech set out a pushback of petrol and diesel car ban and other cost-intensive measures to reduce the country's carbon emissions, Sunak fought back suggestions that he was filtering down the UK's climate commitments.
Amid criticism from within his own party and also from Opposition and industry, he stressed that his updated approach was designed to protect "hard-pressed British families" from "unacceptable costs".
We're very confident being in government, with all the information at our disposal that we are on track to hit all our targets, Sunak told the BBC in an interview.
We're absolutely not slowing down efforts to combat climate change. I'm very proud of our country's leadership. We've decarbonised faster than any other major economy in the G7 not a fact you hear reported that often, he said.
For those who disagree with me and there are plenty of people as we can see over the last day or two, lots of people who disagree with me the question is for them, they should explain to the country why they think it's right that ordinary families up and down the country should have to fork out GBP 5,000, GBP 10,000, GBP 15,000 to make the transition earlier than is necessary, he added.
As a year approaches since the 43-year-old Conservative Party leader took the top job at 10 Downing Street following political turmoil, his latest intervention is widely seen as a voter pitch for the next general election expected in a year's time. It comes just before the annual party conference season kicks off early next month when all the major parties will set out their stalls for an upcoming election campaign.
The first year I've had this job, I've brought stability and competence into government, our country, and our economy, which was necessary and important. But what I want to do now is, in a series of decisions, change the direction of our country, Sunak told the BBC.
And I believe that, if we want to do that, we have to change the way we do politics. You can't chase the short-term headline. You've got to do the things that are right in the long term. That's not going to be easy. I know I'll get criticism and flak for it, as you've seen over the last day or two. But I'm not going to be deterred from doing what I think is right for the long-term future of our children, he insisted.
Meanwhile, the criticism he referred to has continued to flow from the Opposition benches, with Labour branding Sunak rattled, chaotic and out of his depth on the issue.
Within Sunak's own ranks, Britain's Indian-origin Tory MP and president of the COP26 Summit in Glasgow in November 2021 warned against the chopping and changing of climate policies.
Concerned about the fracturing of UK political consensus on climate action. Chopping and changing policies create uncertainty for businesses and the public. Ultimately this makes it more difficult to attract investment and pushes up costs for consumers, tweeted Sir Alok Sharma, knighted in King Charles III's New Year Honours list for his contribution to combatting climate change through his leadership at COP26.
The UK has led the world on Net Zero, climate action and tackling climate change at COP26. Our international partners have concerns about the stance taken today. Leading on a green growth agenda is good for the economy, investment, jobs and the environment, he said.
Net Zero refers to global commitments that harmful greenhouse gas emissions must be balanced by carbon dioxide removals over a specified time period, with the UK committed to meeting it by 2050. Sunak's newly appointed Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, Indian-origin minister Claire Coutinho, backed up her boss on the shift in strategy.
The Net Zero agenda has sped along, but we must not lose sight of the need to protect households who are struggling to pay bills. This is the only way to ensure we are protecting the huge progress that we have made, she writes in The Daily Telegraph'.
Central to our new approach is a move from compulsion to incentive. From ideology to pragmatism. Bans on boilers and rules will be replaced with incentives, she said.