The truth behind this government’s Net Zero pledges

Rishi Sunak in front of a podium that reads 'LONG TERM DECISIONS FOR A BRIGHTER FUTURE;
September 21, 2023
Rishi Sunak’s speech on Net Zero fact checked by members of the Warm This Winter campaign

On September 20th 2023, Rishi Sunak set out his new approach to Net Zero, but what is the truth behind the government's pledges? Below The Warm This Winter team have fact-checked his speech and reveal exactly what the reality is beneath their pledges.

PLEDGE: We won’t impose Net Zero costs on people, especially those who are already struggling to make ends meet

REALITY: People are facing a cost of living crisis triggered and made worse by the UK’s high dependency on unaffordable fossil fuels. Delaying the shift to clean energy prolongs the pain.

The government has failed to grasp that Net Zero policies will save the country and households money. The UK’s high dependency on gas for energy and heating is costing us a fortune and is the reason UK households have the highest energy bills in western Europe. During last year’s energy crisis, the UK’s collective gas bill cost £70 billion, the same as furlough. The impact on bills was the equivalent of £1,000 for every adult. 

Energy bills are still double what they were three years ago and the longer we stay hooked on volatile fossil fuels, the longer our bills will remain high. The high cost of energy has led to millions of people living in cold damp homes. This leads to health complications, which affects people’s lives and ends up costing the NHS (and therefore the taxpayer) over £1 billion per year.

Already an estimated 5.5 million people, which equates to one in 10 UK adults, are in energy debt - an increase of over two million compared to March 2022. They are already struggling with accumulative debt caused by the energy crisis and have had the misery of mortgages and rents going sky high, not to mention food prices.

Speeding up reforms to electricity pricing markets to ensure customers can enjoy the advantages of more affordable renewable electricity, would reduce the cost of Net Zero, yet the government continues to drag its heels on reform.

Unless the Government mends the broken energy model, it is the British people who face bankruptcy whilst the energy companies make billions.

PLEDGE: We will never force any household or landlord to insulate homes

REALITY: Billions of pounds will be wasted in lost energy and millions of people will face higher bills

There is a real-life cost to this pledge from the Prime Minister, especially for the millions of households who rent from a private landlord. Many will now face high bills and cold damp homes in the long term after being abandoned by the government. New figures from Citizens Advice suggest that people living in rented homes will waste £1.1bn this year on energy that leaks out of their walls and windows, compared to people living in better insulated homes. 

Last winter we saw 5,000 excess winter deaths caused by living in cold homes. Rather than fixating on a dangerous agenda which will do nothing to solve Britain's broken energy system, the Prime Minister and Energy Secretary should be focussed on providing help for households to survive this winter and supporting households to take measures to make their homes warmer and safer in the long run.

PLEDGE: We will never force anyone to rip out their existing boiler and replace it with a heat pump.

REALITY: The UK’s high dependency on expensive gas for heating means British households will be facing unaffordable energy bills for years to come

This was never government policy, or on the table. Phasing out the sale of new gas boilers provides a clear signal to the market, certainty for investors and ensures the government can get on with the job of designing supportive policies to reduce costs for consumers. 

The UK has the lowest rollout of heat pumps anywhere in Europe, which means more households are exposed to volatile gas prices. Heat pumps are considered to be three times more efficient than gas boilers, so they work out cheaper even considering the relatively higher unit costs of electricity. Once the grid and electricity standing charges are reformed, heating homes with heat pumps will save people even more on their energy bills. For homes off the gas grid, who use oil for example to heat their homes, the financial benefits of switching to a heat pump would also be significant.

So while the increased grants for heat pumps announced in the speech are welcome, the only people to benefit from delaying the ban on new gas boiler sales are the gas producers and gas boiler companies, which have lobbied the government to delay measures aimed at forcing the industry to install more heat pumps.

PLEDGE: “This country is proud to be a world leader in reaching Net Zero by 2050.”

REALITY: Britain is now falling behind the rest of the world and Rishi’s rollbacks on Net Zero could make meeting our targets impossible.

It is true that the UK has reduced the amount of pollution caused by our power supply quicker than many countries, largely by phasing out coal. But we still use a lot of gas to generate electricity – which is much more expensive than using renewable power – and the recent failure to secure any new ​​wind projects adds to doubts that this government plans to decarbonise electricity by 2035 will be reached. The power sector is just one, albeit significant, source of pollution, though. For the past ten years, most other sectors in the UK have flatlined on emissions. 

The UK is increasingly falling behind other countries both in terms of cutting demand for fossil fuels and increasing the supply of fossil fuels by approving new oil, gas and coal projects, despite repeated warnings by experts that this is incompatible with limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

According to the government’s own independent advisors on climate, the UK is not on track to meet its emissions targets and concluded in its 2023 progress report that the UK ‘has lost its clear global leadership position on climate action’. New analysis shows that Rishi’s rollbacks on Net Zero could make reaching the UK’s legally binding emissions targets impossible.

As other countries seize the economic opportunities to go faster on the energy transition, putting a brake on our progress will simply mean fewer jobs, less investment and higher costs.

PLEDGE: A better, more honest debate about how we secure the country’s long-term interest.

REALITY: Only the financial interests of the oil and gas industry are served by delaying the shift away from expensive fossil fuels

The Prime Minister appears to want to avoid having a debate about these major changes to policy, announcing them during Parliamentary recess when MPs are away – a move that has been condemned by the Speaker of the House of Commons.

In addition, parts of Rishi Sunak’s speech have been widely mocked for being ‘made up’. The Prime Minister said he would abolish three policies which didn’t even exist (seven recycling bins, diet change measures and taxes to discourage flying).

If Rishi Sunak wants an honest debate, he needs to confront the real challenge facing households and businesses – Britain’s broken energy – not create a row for political ends. Millions of people are now effectively priced out of the energy market, which will mean millions will be forced to live in a cold home this winter. The Prime Minister needs to put the interests of the country first, not those of landlords, building companies and the oil and gas giants already making obscene profits at the expense of ordinary people.

(Image courtesy of Number 10)