Environmental organizations have expressed dismay at the prime minister’s apparent backtracking on net-zero commitments. However, the full impact of these plans remains uncertain until specific details emerge. For instance, the postponement of the ban on new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035 is a two-stage process. Between 2030 and 2035, hybrid cars may still be sold, which incorporate both electric and internal combustion engines. Recent analysis raises questions about the environmental benefits of hybrids, as they require proper charging for emission reductions, and not all users consistently charge them. Therefore, 2035 holds greater significance as it marks the exclusive sale of fully electric cars.
The Zero Emissions Mandate scheduled for January 2024 will impose stricter sales targets for electric vehicles (EVs) on manufacturers. To meet these targets, they must offer desirable EVs at affordable prices. Anticipated advancements in battery technology are expected to extend EV range, potentially making them cost-competitive with traditional vehicles by the end of the decade. This shift could remove barriers to electric adoption, rendering the “ban” date less pivotal. A similar rationale applies to the proposed boiler ban. Although heat pumps, an alternative to gas or oil boilers, currently come at a higher cost, trends in green technology suggest potential cost reductions in the future. The decline in solar and wind energy prices since 2010 serves as an encouraging precedent.
Nevertheless, achieving these advancements hinges on technological progress and efficiency gains, without guaranteed outcomes. Furthermore, any perceived flexibility in net-zero targets may have repercussions, potentially unsettling businesses making substantial investment decisions. While the prime minister reaffirms commitment to achieving net zero by 2050, the UK is legally bound to reduce emissions by 78% from 1990 levels by 2035. Although the goal of making all electricity zero carbon by 2035 represents progress, further action will be necessary. The government is wagering that market forces will drive change, but if emissions persist at high levels, it may face the dilemma of revising legal commitments or implementing more substantial, and likely costlier, emission reductions in the future.