Falling short on climate change

Originally published as a column for Inside Housing.

With just four months to go until the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, the government is long on ‘historic’ targets but woefully short on credible policies to implement them.

That was the verdict from the government’s own adviser last week in reports that identify housing as a key sector where action fails to match the lofty and legally binding target of achieving net zero by 2050.

The Committee on Climate Change says a ‘step change’ is required but it is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in climate plans announced in the last 12 months and statements of ambition have been undermined by delays to essential legislation and plans to decarbonise buildings.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is accused of falling short on ensuring that building standards are fit for purpose and properly enforced and overseen ‘almost none of the necessary progress in upgrading the building stock’.

Meanwhile the Planning Bill misses ‘the powerful opportunity to ensure that developments and infrastructure are compliant with Net Zero and appropriately resilient to climate change’.

Delivery rates on key retrofit measures have ‘continued to stagnate’. On the vital issue of how homes are heated, the number of heat pumps installed in new and existing homes rose from 33,000 in 2019 to 36,000 in 3020. The CCC says 900,000 installations a year are needed by 2028. 

We are even falling short in new homes. Heat pumps were installed in just 5 per cent of them in 2020 against a requirement for 20 per cent by this year.

Issues like this require bold, urgent and coordinated action, yet the government’s flagship scheme for housing decarbonisation failed miserably.

The £2 billion Green Homes Grant was announced in the Summer Statement in July 2020 but reached only 10 per cent of the planned 600,000 homes by the time it was cancelled in March 2021.

This was the first such scheme since the Green Deal was ended in 2015 and the CCC says there are major lessons to be learned on public demand, timescales, the need for testing with installers and procurement and accreditation.

Consultations on major  changes are in the works that would have profound impacts on owner-occupiers, landlords and tenants.

These include requiring all properties with new tenants to meet EPC C standards by 2025 properties for all tenancies by 2028 and the social housing white paper’s promise of a review of whether the Decent Homes Standard should be updated to support decarbonisation.

On new homes, an interim standards uplift applies from this year and MHCLG is poised to legislate in 2024 for the Future Homes Standard to apply from 2025. This will require carbon savings of 75 per cent compared to today.

That sounds like major progress but perhaps not so much you remember plans for all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016 that were unceremoniously cancelled as the coalition morphed from ‘greenest government ever’ to getting rid of the ‘green crap’.

If progress is painfully slow on action to reduce emissions from houisng, then failures are equally evident on adapting to climate change impacts in areas such as flooding and overheating.

The CCC estimates that in the five years since its last assessment (by unhappy coincidence, 2016) over 570,000 new homes have been built that are not resilient to future high temperatures.  

COP26 is widely seen as the world’s ‘last chance’ to cut emissions, reduce the rate of global warming and avert climate catastrophe.

The UK Government will take the chair with some fine rhetoric on climate change behind it. But unless it matches that with meaningful policies to put turn those words into action, the results will be so much hot air, in many cases literally. 


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