August 1, 2023 - 7:00am

The UK population is overwhelmingly in favour of the aim to reduce carbon emissions to Net Zero by 2050, but flips to strong opposition if the policy imposes any “additional costs on ordinary people”, according to new polling.

As Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announces his intention to expand carbon capture and increase the amount of oil and gas drilling in the North Sea, the results show a preference for the general goal of Net Zero, rather than any commitment to the policies which would be necessary to deliver it. While over 70% support the broader aim, less than half (42%) agree with the decision to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars after 2030. 

The survey, carried out by YouGov, asked 2000 adults from across the UK how they felt about the Government’s green agenda. As well as the marginal opposition to banning petrol cars, only 42% of respondents support the phasing out of new gas boilers, which is due to begin in 2035. 

The YouGov poll reveals a significant gap across party lines: even though 59% of those who voted Conservative at the last general election back the 2050 target, this figure rises to 84% among 2019 Labour supporters, and 87% among Lib Dems. For Remain and Leave voters, the proportions are 83% and 58%, respectively. Notably, Shadow frontbencher Jess Philips has criticised Sunak’s decision to distribute licences to companies seeking to extract oil and gas from the North Sea, labelling it the “wrong priority” on Monday.

Among Tory voters, only 25% are in favour of banning petrol and diesel cars, while just 26% agree with phasing out gas boilers. By contrast, the Labour support for each issue sits at 57% and 58%, with even higher figures for Lib Dem voters. There is also more openness to Net Zero policies among London residents and those belonging to higher social grades when compared to the rest of the UK population.

Support for Net Zero becomes opposition once the question of cost is introduced. Most voters believe that “policies to reduce carbon emissions should only be introduced if they do not result in additional costs for ordinary people”, while less than half as many people believe that the policies should be pursued “even if they result in some additional costs for ordinary people”. Though the gap is smaller when looking only at Labour or Lib Dem voters, in both cases there is a higher proportion in favour of policies which do not result in extra costs for Britons.

Sunak has maintained that his drilling expansion is “entirely consistent” with the Government’s Net Zero goals. After the rejection of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Ulez scheme played an important part in the unexpected Tory victory in this month’s Uxbridge by-election, the Prime Minister has insisted that “banning things” is “not the right approach” to hitting green targets.

is UnHerd’s Assistant Editor, Newsroom.