Net Zero? You have no idea, Rishi Sunak

Sue Nethercott
10 min readSep 24

Every delay getting to net zero is a bad idea, which is why Rishi Sunak’s speech is bad news.

Graph showing rapid progress to net zero versus slow progrgess
Paths to net zero by Sue Nethercott

The above two diagrams show two extreme theoretical paths to net zero. The area under each graph shows how much CO2 would be emitted before 2050, and therefore how much we would be adding to global warming. The second one indicates how much greater our emissions would be by delaying. And therefore what state the world would be in by then, if other countries followed Sunak’s lead. Getting to net zero by 2050 is not enough — how we get there matters. Simon Oldridge has posted a video explaining this. We can disagree on what steps we should take to get there, but not on how quickly we need to do so.

Rishi Sunak’s speech

Prime minister Rishi Sunak just gave a speech on net zero, apparently triggered by a leak of his plans to water down his policies if not a complete U-turn. The text of his speech on 20 September can be found here. I’ll pass over the feel-good waffle and skip his claims about progress on his 5 priorities and get straight to the net zero points. His speech updates or replaces the Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener published in October 2021.

“can we put the long-term interests of our country before the short-term political needs of the moment, even if it means being controversial?”

It is good if a government can plan for the long term as well as the short term. But net zero needs short term action as well as a long term vision.

The non-existent policies that Sunak is banning

“A ban on buying new boilers even if your home will never ever be suitable for a heat pump.”

There was a gas and oil boiler ban in newbuild homes only from 2025. There’s no mandatory replacement by heat pumps, though they are encouraged — the current Boiler Upgrade Scheme offers grants to help replace fossil fuel boilers. The current plan says, “Consulting on phasing out the dirtiest and most expensive fossil fuels first — new oil, coal and liquefied petroleum gas heating — and replace with low carbon alternatives in non-domestic buildings from 2024 and homes from 2026, following natural appliance replacement cycles.”

Sue Nethercott

Open University BA, UMIST MSc, OU BSc Environmental Studies. Interests: environment, COVID19. Double #ostomate. Thom Hartmann’s newsletter editor. Views my own.