U.K. Vows to Protect Consumers Against Cost of Reaching Net Zero

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The U.K. government vowed to protect British consumers against the costs of phasing out greenhouse gas emissions after the Times newspaper said ministers have drawn up carbon-cutting plans that would raise the price of heating homes and running cars.

The paper said ministers plan to consult later this year on expanding its domestic emissions trading program to cover emissions from heating buildings and fueling vehicles. The annual cost of heating a home could rise by as much as 170 pounds ($234), and the cost of running a car could rise by more than 100 pounds, the paper said, citing internal government estimates.

“No decisions have been made on expanding the Emissions Trading Scheme,” the government said in an emailed statement. “We will always protect consumers against increases to cost of living while transitioning to cleaner and greener sources of fuel.”

The U.K. has vowed to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, with an interim target of a 78% reduction by 2035, from 1990 levels -- one of the most ambitious plans in the world. But the government’s own watchdog, the Climate Change Committee, said last month that its lofty targets aren’t backed by firm policies.

The government views carbon pricing as a key tool to bring emissions down: by putting a cost on greenhouse gas emissions, companies and consumers are incentivized to develop and use cleaner technologies.

The government on Jan. 1 replaced its participation in the European Union’s carbon trading program with a new domestic Emissions Trading Scheme, or U.K. ETS, which puts a price on pollution from power stations, factories and aviation. But in an energy white paper published in December, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said the program will allow the government to “expand carbon pricing across the economy.”

“We have committed to exploring expanding the U.K. ETS to the two thirds of uncovered emissions,” the White Paper said. The government will set out those plans in the runup to the COP26 United Nations climate summit that’s scheduled to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, it said.

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