UK leader Rishi Sunak signals plan to backtrack on some climate goals

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LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is preparing to water down some of Britain’s climate commitments, saying the country must fight climate change without penalizing workers and consumers.

Sunak issued a late-night statement Tuesday in response to a BBC report saying the prime minister is considering extending deadlines for bans on new gasoline and diesel cars – currently due in 2030 —- and on new natural-gas home heating.

Sunak said that in a speech this week he will set out a “proportionate” approach to the environment. He did not set a date for the speech, which could come as early as Wednesday.

“For too many years politicians in governments of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade offs,” Sunak said in a statement. “Instead they have taken the easy way out, saying we can have it all.”

Sunak did not confirm details of his announcements. He said he would keep a promise to reduce the U.K.’s emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050, but “in a better, more proportionate way.”

The news drew dismay from environmental groups, opposition parties and some members of Sunak’s governing Conservative Party. It broke as senior politicians from the U.K. and around the world gather at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where climate is high on the agenda.

Britain’s Conservatives have been openly reassessing their climate change promises after a special election result in July that was widely seen as a thumbs-down from voters to a tax on polluting cars.

The party, which trails behind the Labour opposition nationwide, unexpectedly won the contest for the suburban London Uxbridge district by focusing on a divisive levy on older, vehicles imposed by London’s Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan. Some Tories believe axing green policies is a vote-winner that can help the party avoid defeat in a national election due by the end of next year.

“We’re not going to save the planet by bankrupting the British people,” Home Secretary Suella Braverman said Wednesday.

But Conservative lawmaker Alok Sharma, who chaired the COP26 international climate conference in Glasgow in 2021, warned that watering down climate goals would be “incredibly damaging for business confidence, for inward investment.”

“And frankly, I really do not believe that it’s going to help any political party electorally which chooses to go down this path,” he told the BBC.

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