Sunak’s Net Zero U-Turn: For the Working Class or an Election Tactic?

Nidhi Bhavsar (She/Her)

Sunak is rolling back on multiple policies to move towards greener products and practices, including pushing back the ban on cars with combustion from 2030 to 2035 and the replacement of gas boilers to heat pumps from 2030 to 2035, stopping restricting the number of passengers in cars, the increase of the number of bins for waste management, a meat and air travel taxes and a ban of oil and gas projects in the North Sea.

It is worthy to note that a lot of these ‘rollbacks’ are unfounded. The Committee for Climate Change (CCC), an independent advisory to the government, released an assessment on the UK’s net zero strategy. Some ‘scrapped policies’ weren’t even recommendations by the CCC. There was no meat tax, no discouragement of air travel, and no compulsory car sharing but a mention of reducing reliance on private car travel.

The policies are some of many that have been pushed by climate experts in hopes of coping with the rapidly worsening climate crisis. Sunak’s justification revolves around the burden the net zero policies were placing on the working class, a burden he seems to forget bolstering: taking money from “deprived urban areas”, allowing a £1.7-billion tax break for private schools and not only refusing to increase pay for union workers, but introducing anti-strike laws as well. The burden on the working class can be reduced with government aid though, like the Boiler Update Scheme that  covers part of the costs to replace gas boilers. So instead of Sunak’s figures of £5-15K, boilers could cost £3000 and drop to £500 with the additional aid coming in.

All this after Sunak gave the go-ahead to authorise more than 100 new licences more fossil fuel drilling in the North Sea in July, that he still refuses to stop. Then, just 10 days before the U-turn on net zero policies, Sunak announced a $2-billion aid to the UN-backed Green Climate Fund after the G-20 summit. The stark contradiction in action could be explained by Sunak’s unwavering commitment to ‘doing the right thing’. I think it’s more to pacify anyone he can – the $2-bn aid for the climate activists and the roll back on net zero for the working class he has taken away so much from over the past year.

The uncertainty of Sunak’s next move is obvious in the random policies making front page news these days – the scrapping of HS2, trying to raise the minimum age for cigarette buying, the disposable vape banning, the A-level scrapping and his “a man is a man and a woman is a woman” comments. His campaign doesn’t have a target anymore; it’s a scramble to distract and appease. 

Sunak’s speech also shifted the focus on countries like France, US or China that either weren’t doing enough or anything at all. The UK has worked on climate’ that isn’t the issue. Instead, the CCC is worried that the UK will not meet the fourth (2023-27) or the fifth (2028-32) climate targets. The shift of focus to other, larger countries absolves  the UK government (and thus, Sunak) of some accountability in this matter. It’s a phenomenon commonly seen with Sunak – he refuses blame on the economic crisis, UK wide strikes, crumbling schools etc. 

Sunak says he is ‘entirely confident’ he can win the next election. But with donors dissatisfied, fellow Tory MPs speaking out against his strategy, and a confused, overstimulated and frustrated public, he shouldn’t be. Sunak’s stance on ‘thinking of the disadvantaged’ by pushing net zero would be more believable if it came from someone else; his actions set a detrimental precedent to future climate handlings and only serve a purpose in his political future.