In 2019, in the midst of bad-tempered parliamentary battles to shape the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU, the U.K. became the first country to legislate for net zero by 2050. The law passed without a single vote against.
The unity hasn’t lasted. The target remains in place, but Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sees climate as a profitable political battle field in the run-up to an election polls show he’s likely to lose. His government has opposed the expansion of a low-pollution zone in Labour-controlled London and issued 100 new oil and gas exploration licenses, something opposition leader Keir Starmer has promised to halt.
Egged on by right-wing newspapers, some of his Conservative Party MPs want to go further — backtracking on the plan to phase out new internal-combustion cars in 2030, for example. They argue cutting emissions is an expense cash-strapped Britons can’t afford: the highest inflation rate in Europe means rising utility bills and food prices leave little for expensive electric vehicles or replacing gas boilers with heat pumps. There have even been calls for a referendum on the whole idea of net zero.
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