3 min read
In just over 50 days, the UK plays host to the pivotal international climate summit COP26 in Glasgow. To be a credible host, the UK must get its own house in order yet its net zero strategy – the UK government’s long-awaited plan for reducing emissions – and other crucial plans, including its heat and buildings strategy, have still not been published.
These are not delays the UK can easily afford. On the decisive area of homes and buildings – responsible for 14 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions – analysis by IPPR has found that in 2020 England was installing just six per cent of the government’s annual installation target of 600,000 heat pumps (the anticipated dominant low carbon heat technology by 2050) per year by 2028. Delivering homes that are energy efficient is also crucial, yet in England only between two and nine per cent of what will be needed by 2028 of measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation are being installed annually.
So we’re a long way from where we need to be and decarbonising the nation’s homes is one of the most difficult areas where the UK needs to make progress on emissions reductions in the next few years. Numerous government schemes have also been botched or scrapped early.
Energy efficiency upgrades combined with heat pumps could lead to a 16 per cent reduction in energy bills compared to gas boilers
But the good news is that bolder action has considerable public support. Just this month, public concern about the environment reached an historically high level rising to the second biggest issue facing the UK, even ahead of the economy. Nearly two-thirds of people want higher government spending to address environmental issues.
As well as bringing down emissions, government action can also bring down energy bills – the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has indicated that energy efficiency upgrades combined with heat pumps could lead to a 16 per cent reduction in energy bills compared to gas boilers.
Nevertheless, such benefits and the public support for action does not give the government a free pass. Focus groups held by IPPR over the summer with homeowners and landlords revealed concerns around affordability, disruption and trust issues.
These concerns are far from insurmountable. In its forthcoming heat and buildings strategy the government must deliver five key things for it to be successful.
First, there must be a big and bold programme to shift the dial – IPPR proposes a ‘GreenGo scheme’ to do this – a one-stop shop under one unifying brand which offers financial support and high-quality advice.
Through this scheme the government should invest £6bn a year between now and 2030 to help approximately 650,000 households per year install insulation and heat pumps. The scheme should offer a cash grant of up to £7,500 for all households, with those in fuel poor homes supported with full grants for the upfront costs.
Second, provide people with the information they need to make the best choices for them. Clear and consistent advice should be given to all households.
Third, the government must set legal targets to bring all homes up to high energy efficiency standards and phase out fossil-fuelled home heating systems. This will spark the long-term commercial investment in the skills and innovations required to deliver at scale.
Fourth, to ensure heat decarbonisation is tailored to the needs of individual communities and homes, the effort should be led by local government with finance and guidance from central government.
Finally, the UK will need nearly 300,000 workers in energy efficiency retrofitting and heat pump installation by 2030. To ensure the workforce has the necessary skills, the government should establish skills academies and a Green Training Fund.
The UK government has said it is ‘serious about 1.5 degrees’ – a credible, long-term heat and buildings strategy is the best way to show just how serious they are.
Luke Murphy is head of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission. The commission published its final report Fairness and Opportunity in July.
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