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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
HM Treasury Sunak at a petrol station in 2022 when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer.
net zero

'I would worry for the British people': Ryan on Sunak pushing out date on ban on new petrol car sales

The ban has been pushed back to 2035.

LAST UPDATE | Sep 20th 2023, 5:00 PM

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER EAMON RYAN has said the UK risks “serious reputational damage” over Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s watering down of climate actions. 

The UK is set to soften policies aimed at achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and instead pursue a “pragmatic” approach to hitting the target, Sunak said this afternoon.

“We can adopt a more pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach to meeting net zero,” Sunak told a news conference, saying a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars would be pushed back from 2030 to 2035.

That would bring it in line with countries such as France and Germany, he said.

Sunak also announced an easing of energy efficiency targets for rental properties and backtracked on plans to make homeowners replace gas boilers with heat pumps.

In Ireland the sale of new petrol or diesel cars is due to be banned in 2030.

Speaking to reporters in New York at the United Nations Building, where one climate change is one of the key topics of discussion this week, Ryan said he would “worry for the British people”.

The UK has one of the proudest records in climate diplomacy and climate action, he said, adding that they’ve significantly reduced their emissions in the last 10 to 15 years.

“It is worrying, I would worry for the British people, the British government and people if they leave that track. Now they’re starting to be seen as a country which is not leading in climate, that’s not good for their people, it’s not good for their economy, it’s not good for their reputation. There are real risks,” he added.

“I think the British people actually don’t want to take that action,” said the minister, stating that it is time to be ambitious and bold.

“It’s not time to retreat and go back to a fossil fuel approach… we have to move on from the use of those fuels. And I think the British government, if it doesn’t keep up its proud records, it risks really serious reputational, as well as economic damage,” he said. 

When asked if he thought Sunak’s non-attendance at the UN General Assembly this week was a snub, Ryan said:

“The room I was in, President Macron was there, Chancellor Schultz was there, Ursula von der Leyen was there, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was there. If I was Rishi Sunak I’d be here too,” concluded the minister.

‘Believer in net-zero’

Stressing that “no one can doubt” the reality of climate change, Sunak said he was a firm believer both in net zero and the UK’s ability to achieve it.

But he added that “too often motivated by short-term thinking, politicians have taken the easy way out, telling people the bits they want to hear, and not necessarily always the bits they need to hear.

“We haven’t had an honest conversation about these issues in a long time. It’s not enough to just announce these targets – great headlines in the short term – to will this thing to happen. That’s not right,” he said.

The prime minister said in his speech that the UK is “so far ahead of every other country in the world” on tackling climate change.

He added: “How can it be right that British citizens are now being told to sacrifice even more than others? Because the risk here for those of us who care about reaching net zero, as I do, is simple.

“If we continue down this path, we risk losing the consent of the British people.”

Sunak continued: “That’s why we have to do things differently. We need sensible green leadership.

“It won’t be easy and it will require a wholly new kind of politics. A politics that is transparent and the space for a better, more honest debate about how we secure the country’s long-term interests.”


Sunak’s announcement comes on the same day world leaders have gathered for discussions on preventing future pandemics and tackling the climate crisis at the UN General Assembly in New York and Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ Climate Ambition Summit.

Critics have condemned Sunak for his absence at the summit, warning that the UK is throwing away its reputation as a world leader on climate change.

Sunak’s speech also overshadowed Environment Secretary Therese Coffey’s announcement that the UK would sign the UN Ocean Treaty in New York.

Lissa Batey, head of marine conservation at The Wildlife Trusts, said: “It is shocking that the UK Government appears happy to sign up to international agreements one minute, and completely undermine them the next.

“While we welcome the signing of the UN High Seas Treaty – which is crucial to achieve the UK’s pledge to protect 30% of seas by 2030 – we are concerned that today’s climate announcements put this commitment at risk.

“Despite signing the treaty, the UK risks being left adrift if we delay or weaken ambitions to meet existing net-zero targets. The UK Government must stay on course and live up to its commitments.”

Shaun Spiers, executive director at Green Alliance, said: “Global leaders are meeting for a climate ambition summit at the United Nations today – and Rishi Sunak’s not on the list.

“Our legally binding commitment to reach net zero by 2050 ought to have earned us a place with the “early movers” showing the world how it’s done today.”

Spiers said the UK has not “matched ambition with concrete action”.

“The Prime Minister claims Britain is leading the world on climate change,” he said.

“The truth is that, by sacrificing climate policies for short-term political gains, we’re throwing away hard-won progress on the climate and with it our international reputation on this issue.”

With reporting by Political Correspondent Christina Finn in New York

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