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Environment

Climate advisers find ‘multiple’ risks of failure in government’s green homes plan

Decarbonising housing stock will protect millions from spikes in energy prices, but progress is moving too slowly, the Climate Change Committee has warned.

The government’s plans for decarbonising the UK’s buildings are incomplete and contain “multiple” risks of failure, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has warned. 

The CCC, the government’s official climate advisers, said the official Heat and Buildings Strategy (HBS) published in October is ambitious but lacks comprehensive policy to deliver on the goals outlined. 

In the context of the current energy crisis, worsened by conflict in Ukraine, the CCC said “the need for urgent action” on decarbonising homes is more important than ever to reduce dependence on foreign imports of gas and keep energy prices stable for consumers. 

The HBS outlines how the UK will decarbonise all buildings in order to meet net zero by 2050.

The plan includes measures to insulate UK housing stock, transition households towards low-carbon heating systems and decarbonise public sector buildings. 

These plans, however, have been deemed “not yet comprehensive or complete” by the CCC, which said policy gaps have left “significant delivery risks across the strategy”. 

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Key gaps outlined include a lack of explanation around how emissions reductions will be achieved and a shortfall in funding for decarbonisation of public sector buildings. The CCC also says current policy on overheating in buildings only addresses risks in new-builds and not existing buildings. 

Around two-thirds of the ambitions stated in the HBS face “at least some, and often significant” risks that they will not be achieved, the report said.

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This is down to a variety of factors including a skills shortage in the workforce, a “lack of detail” in plans for delivering decarbonisation schemes and a “lack of pace and clarity” from the government, the CCC said. 

Currently, home heating alone accounts for around 15 per cent of the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. 

The figure is particularly high due to Britain having some of the oldest and most poorly-insulated housing stock in Europe, meaning many homes require a large amount of energy to stay warm.

Reducing carbon emissions from home heating slashes energy bills for occupants and could end the UK’s reliance on foreign gas imports.

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This is because renewable energy can be produced domestically and is cheaper on the whole, while a well-insulated home means less energy is required to heat it. 

In the context of the conflict in Ukraine prompting a move away from Russian imports of gas, experts say faster progress towards decarbonisation could mean a future energy crisis is avoided.

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Decarbonising housing stock will require a mass programme of home insulation and installation of low-carbon heating systems such as heat pumps, something successive governments and policies have failed to deliver at the pace and scale required. 

Most recently the Green Homes Grant, introduced in September 2020, offered grants to encourage property owners to make energy efficiency improvements to their homes. 

The grant scheme closed after just six months with very low take-up, and was deemed a “slam-dunk failure” by the Public Accounts Committee.

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