UK PM Sunak to announce more 'proportionate' climate response

By Elizabeth Piper and William James

LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will give a speech this week in which he is expected to delay some of the government's policies to reach net zero emissions by 2050, saying the response to the climate change should be more "proportionate."

In a highly unusual late-night statement after reports that he was planning to row back on some of the government’s key green policies, Sunak said he would set out an "important long-term decision" about the country's plans to reach net zero.

"I am proud that Britain is leading the world on climate change. We are committed to Net Zero by 2050 and the agreements we have made internationally - but doing so in a better, more proportionate way," he said in the statement.

"I’ll be giving a speech this week to set out an important long-term decision we need to make so our country becomes the place I know we all want it to be for our children."

With a general election looming next year, Sunak sees scaling back some green policies as a way to win over swing voters "ahead of a general election expected next year." It would be a striking reversal for Britain which until recently was a self-proclaimed leader in climate policy.

Britain is considering delaying its ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars until 2035, five years later than currently planned, the BBC reported, citing unnamed sources.

The current 2030 target was introduced in November 2020 as a central part of then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plans for a "green revolution." As recently as July, senior minister Michael Gove restated government support for the policy.

Sunak said successive governments "have not been honest about costs and trade offs" of going green policies. He said previous governments had taken "the easy way out, saying we can have it all."

Some Conservatives say climate policy is one area where they can create a clear dividing line with the Labour Party which until recently had planned to pour 28 billion pounds ($35 billion) a year into green jobs and industries.

The Conservatives unexpectedly won an election to fill Johnson's old seat in parliament this summer mainly because of opposition to the Labour mayor of London’s decision to extend an ultra-low emission zone.

Sunak's speech this week will be his latest attempt to reset his government, which is dealing with high inflation, a stagnant economy and ongoing strikes.

A Labour spokesperson said: "This is a total farce. The country cannot go on with a Conservative government in total disarray, stumbling from crisis to crisis."

($1 = 0.8072 pound)

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper, William James and Farouq Suleiman in LondonWriting by Andrew MacAskillEditing by Paul Sandle, Timothy Gardner and Matthew Lewis)