Rishi Sunak is said to be considering plans to water down the government’s net zero pledges amid pressure from some MPs, who fear that unpopular green policies could cost them votes at the election.
The BBC says it has seen documents suggesting that changes could be made to as many as seven core commitments, including weakening the plan to phase out gas boilers from 2035 and delaying the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars – currently due to come into force in 2030 – by five years.
While Mr Sunak is not expected to ditch the legal commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, he could say that the UK has overperformed on tackling the climate crisis and that other countries need to step up their action, according to the broadcaster.
It is also understood that some Tory MPs are considering submitting letters of no confidence in the prime minister if he goes ahead with the changes.
Mr Sunak has repeatedly deployed the language of pragmatism and proportionality when discussing net zero, but campaigners and activists have charged him with a lack of interest in climate policies.
Tory success in the summer’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, won largely through a campaign against the expansion of the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez), has led some MPs to call for Mr Sunak to water down or abandon net zero pledges.
While Mr Sunak has repeatedly said he is committed to cutting carbon emissions, the granting of new oil and gas licences and recent moves to curb green policies have attracted criticism.
Chris Skidmore, a Conservative former energy minister who has become increasingly outspoken on net zero, told PA: “If this is true, the decision will cost the UK jobs, inward investment, and future economic growth that could have been ours by committing to the industries of the future.
“It will potentially destabilise thousands of jobs and see investment go elsewhere. And ultimately the people who will pay the price for this will be householders whose bills will remain higher as a result of inefficient fossil fuels and being dependent on volatile international fossil fuel prices.
“Rishi Sunak still has time to think again and not make the greatest mistake of his premiership, condemning the UK to missing out on what can be the opportunity of the decade to deliver growth, jobs and future prosperity.”
Hannah Martin, co-director of Green New Deal Rising, said: “Once again this government has shown that they are hell-bent on breaking their promises and doing nothing to stop climate chaos. Just weeks after the hottest summer on record Rishi Sunak has decided to ignore science and stoke a culture war.
“Whilst global leaders are meeting to discuss how to tackle the climate crisis, he has stayed home to set fire to some of the only remaining climate policies this government had left.
“Not only will the UK miss out on the opportunity to create millions of good green jobs and secure our energy future, we will be once again seen as a laggard as we duck out of doing our fair share to tackle the biggest existential crisis we face.”
Greenpeace UK’s policy director, Doug Parr, said rowing back on such policies would only ensure “we stay at the mercy of volatile fossil fuels and exploitative energy companies”.
“The many scandals we face like the cost of living, inequality, and the energy crisis can be fixed with the same solutions we know will tackle the climate crisis. Sunak must explain how we will meet our net zero commitments by rowing back on all of the policies to get us anywhere near it.”
And Jess Ralston, head of energy at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) said backpedalling on energy efficiency would only leave the poorest with higher bills.
“All of this would leave us more dependent on foreign oil and gas, less energy independent and with investors spooked, putting jobs in the industries of the future in jeopardy,” she said.
A government spokesperson said: “The government remains completely committed to its net zero commitments, with the UK having cut emissions faster than any other G7 country.
“Our approach will always be pragmatic and ensure costs are not passed onto hard-working families.
“We will not comment on speculation.”