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Net zero

Sunak’s green gamble

Sunak at the COP26 climate conference, back when he was chancellor. Christopher Furlong/Getty

Rishi Sunak has “declared war on the green establishment”, says Allister Heath in The Daily Telegraph. And predictably, he’s now being monstered by everyone from left-wing think-tanks and eco-zealots to big business and members of his own party. But it was “the best speech he has ever given”. Banning petrol cars by 2030 was always a “dangerously utopian” policy, dreamt up by Boris Johnson because it sounded “better” than the original target of 2040. Charging infrastructure won’t be ready, we won’t produce enough electricity and there won’t be enough truly cheap, long-range electric cars available to allow those with smaller budgets to replace their old vehicles. Despite all the hysterics, the PM isn’t trying to “ditch decarbonisation”, he just wants to do it at a more reasonable speed, while “keeping the public onside and avoiding a revolt”.

It’s a high-risk strategy, says Rachel Cunliffe in The New Statesman. The reaction from big business is “furious” – companies like Ford, with complicated supply chains and long-term strategies, don’t like it when the government “suddenly pulls the rug out from under them”. There’s also a substantial political risk. Sunak has never been “well-loved” in his party, where many influential operators are committed environmentalists. Zac Goldsmith called the announcement a “moment of shame”, and said it revealed Sunak’s “low opinion of voters” that he believed they would “join him on the side of destruction”. And it’s simply not clear that voters do want to join him. Net zero is backed by a clear majority, and many will assume the reason green targets are being watered down is because the government is too incompetent to meet them. Sunak is selling this U-turn as “pragmatic”, but it could prove to be the miscalculation that defines his legacy.