What’s behind the ‘Net Zero proposals’ the Prime Minister has said he’ll scrap?

21 September 2023
What was claimed

There’s a proposal to make you change your diet by taxing meat.

Our verdict

There’s no evidence the government intended to tax meat in order to reach Net Zero. Recommendations from official bodies such as the Climate Change Committee have not included taxing meat.

What was claimed

There’s a proposal to create new taxes to discourage flying or going on holiday.

Our verdict

There is no evidence the government intended such a policy. Earlier this year the government actually reduced air passenger taxes for those flying to domestic or ultra-long haul destinations.

What was claimed

There have been proposals for a government diktat to sort your rubbish into seven different bins.

Our verdict

The Environment Act 2021 sets out provisions for six different types of recyclable household waste to be collected separately. But it also includes exceptions to this requirement, and these provisions have not actually been brought into force.

What was claimed

There have been proposals for compulsory car sharing if you drive to work.

Our verdict

There’s no evidence the government intended to pursue compulsory car sharing. Although local car sharing schemes operate across the UK, they are not compulsory. A handful of commuter roads can only be used by vehicles with a minimum of two occupants during certain times of day, but these have existed since the late ‘90s.

What was claimed

The government is stopping heavy-handed measures on expensive insulation upgrades.

Our verdict

Although proposed changes to Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards, which would mean from 2025 new rental properties would need at least an Energy Performance Certificate rating of C or above, have been mentioned in a government consultation, the government has not brought forward a policy or proposed legislation that would enact this.

In a speech yesterday announcing changes to the government’s Net Zero strategy, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The debate about how we get to Net Zero has thrown up a range of worrying proposals and today I want to confirm that under this government, they’ll never happen.”

He referred to a number of proposals, including taxes on meat and flying, compulsory car sharing, and a “diktat” for households to sort rubbish into seven different bins.

These proposals were also listed in a social media post shared by the Prime Minister and several other Conservative MPs, which also claimed that the government was scrapping “expensive insulation upgrades”.

Some of the things Mr Sunak mentioned do appear to have some basis in existing government plans or legislation. Others, like the purported taxes on meat and flying, and compulsory car sharing, have been suggested by other bodies, but Full Fact has seen no evidence that they were ever taken up as government policies or proposals which would require “scrapping” to prevent.

Claims about government policy without appropriate context and caveats can damage public trust in both politicians and the political process. Caveats and context should always be included when claims are made, and oversights rectified when they occur.

We’ve contacted Number 10 for comment and will update this article if we receive a response.

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Taxing meat 

The graphic shared online by Mr Sunak said “taxes on eating meat” were one of the “heavy-handed measures” the government were “stopping”. 

Meat is exempt from VAT, and we have found no evidence that the government had plans to introduce meat-specific taxes in order to reach Net Zero. 

On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, when asked where proposals to tax meat had come from, Mr Sunak pointed to the Climate Change Committee (CCC). 

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) is an independent statutory body that advises the UK government. Its purpose is to “advise” on “emissions targets and to report to Parliament on progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for and adapting to the impacts of climate change”. It has no powers to write or introduce its own legislation or policies.

The CCC does advocate that people eat less meat in order to help reduce emissions, and in a report earlier this year said the government should “take low-cost, low-regret actions to encourage a 20% shift away from all meat by 2030, rising to 35% by 2050”. 

It also said “further policy intervention on diets is required” and noted “the government has set out no plans to support the public to shift to a lower-carbon diet”. However, the CCC did not suggest taxing meat as a way to reduce consumption, as its Chief Executive confirmed to the BBC this morning. 

Some other bodies have discussed taxing meat. In 2021, the independent National Food Strategy noted “a meat tax might be the quickest way to reduce consumption, but it would be expensive and regressive”, “politically impossible”, and did not propose introducing one. The University of Oxford’s research and policy unit the Oxford Martin School published a paper exploring meat taxation in January 2022. 

The government had previously ruled out taxing meat. In February 2021, after reports that the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson was considering introducing carbon taxes on some meat products, a No 10 official said: “this is categorically not going to happen. We will not be imposing a meat tax on the Great British banger or anything else”.

New taxes on flying

Mr Sunak claimed to be “scrapping” new taxes that would discourage flying, but we’ve found no evidence of any government plan to impose such taxes. 

There has, however, been movement in the opposite direction, with reductions in air passenger duty for domestic flights introduced earlier this year. This is despite concerns that shorter flights are more damaging to the environment than other forms of travel, leading to some such flights being banned in France. 

A 2021 briefing from the House of Commons Library acknowledges that there have been some calls for the introduction of taxes to discourage flying, but does not specify the source of the calls or whether they come from within the government. 

Although the CCC report suggests that: “The price of flying should be raised to the point that it acts as an effective signal to consumers that aviation has high emissions costs,” this is a recommendation, not government policy. 

The Jet Zero consultation published by the Department of Transport makes no mention of taxes. In a section titled ‘influencing consumers’ it suggests that providing consumers with more information about their flight emissions at the time of booking may encourage greener choices. 

It also suggests placing the onus on aviation companies themselves by encouraging them to become greener by, for example, switching to Sustainable Aviation Fuel which reduces emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional fossil fuels. 

Seven different bins

As others have pointed out, the idea that households might need “seven different bins” appears to be based on provisions set out in the Environment Act 2021.

The Act specifies that recyclable household waste must be collected separately from other household waste, and sets out six specific “recyclable waste streams”: glass; metal; plastic; paper and card; food waste; and garden waste. These six, plus non-recyclable waste takes us to seven types of waste.

The Act also states that “recyclable household waste in each recyclable waste stream must be collected separately” except for when “it is not technically or economically practicable to collect recyclable household waste in those recyclable waste streams separately, or… collecting recyclable household waste in those recyclable waste streams separately has no significant environmental benefit”.

So while the law sets out that all seven types of waste should be collected separately, it also sets out exceptions to this requirement.

Crucially, the Act also specifies that these provisions will only come into force “on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations appoint”, which means that despite the Environment Act itself being law already, this particular provision is currently not in force.

In May 2021 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) launched a consultation on a plan for how the powers set out in the Act regarding recyclable waste collection should be used. Following Mr Sunak’s speech last night DEFRA reportedly confirmed that this plan, now known as “Simpler Recycling” would “[ensure] a requirement to recycle with seven bins will not happen”.

A DEFRA spokesperson told Full Fact: “The new Simpler Recycling system, to be outlined shortly, will ensure all homes in England can recycle the same materials, ending the confusion over what can and can’t be recycled.”

Compulsory car sharing

During his speech Mr Sunak said that the government would be scrapping policies for "compulsory car sharing if you drive to work", citing that "it cannot be right for Westminster to impose such significant costs on working people especially those who are already struggling to make ends meet".

However, no such policy has ever been in place. 

A spokesperson for car sharing platform Liftshare said: “It came as surprising news to us that the Government was pursuing a policy of mandatory carsharing… it would appear that the Prime Minister has just killed a policy that no one knew they had.”

A local authority toolkit published by the government in 2022 supports the use of car sharing, which it defines as the “matching up of lifts between drivers and passengers who share a common or similar route.” The guidance notes that even a small increase in the number of passengers per vehicle could significantly reduce carbon emissions. 

Although the guidance suggests local authorities could promote such schemes for their staff, residents and businesses, it contains no suggestion that this would be in any way compulsory. 

The 2022 report of the CCC also supports car sharing, but does not suggest it should be mandatory. 

During certain times of the day, parts of some roads enforce compulsory car sharing to speed journeys for vehicles carrying multiple passengers. This is common in the US and elsewhere, but only a handful of such schemes operate in the UK, the first being the A647 in Leeds which opened in 1998.  In all such cases drivers have the option to use other parts of the road.

Expensive insulation upgrades

Mr Sunak said that “under current plans, some property owners would’ve been forced to make expensive upgrades in just two years’ time”, but now “those plans will be scrapped”. 

This appears to refer to proposed changes to the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards Regulations which, if implemented, would mean that from 2025 all new rental properties in England and Wales would need an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) with a rating of C or above, and all rented properties would need a rating of C or above from 2028. 

An EPC measures how energy efficient a home is and provides a ranking on a scale from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient). EPCs are legally required when a home is built, sold or rented.

The potential change to the minimum rating was mentioned in a government consultation that ran from September 2020 until January 2021. In November 2021, the government said that they were “finalising the policy design” of this specific proposal, and “will be publishing a government response in due course”. 

While the government did not bring forward their own legislation to enact this, the proposal appeared in three Private Members’ Bills. None of these Bills passed into law. 

In his speech Mr Sunak referenced the government’s Great British Insulation Scheme, and his post on X said the government would scrap “expensive insulation upgrades”. While insulation is one way homes can be made more efficient, homeowners can take other measures, such as replacing single glazed windows and switching to low energy lighting.

Mr Sunak also said “we’ll never force any household to” make their home more energy efficient. Rules have already been introduced that require some landlords to make their properties more energy efficient. Since 2020, all rented properties in England and Wales have needed a minimum EPC rating of E or above, meaning those whose properties had lower ratings have already had to make changes.

Image courtesy of Number 10

Update 22 September 2023

We’ve updated this article to include comment from DEFRA.

We deserve better than bad information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted Rishi Sunak to request clarification regarding these claims to make it clear that some of these were not actively being pursued by the government

Mr Sunak is yet to respond. 

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