‘We have a choice: rebuild the old economy, locking in temperature increases of 4°C with extreme climate disruption;
or build back better, preserving our planet for generations to come.’
Mark Carney, UN special envoy for climate action
Covid-19 and carbon emissions
Countries around the world shut their doors at the beginning of the year to limit the spread of Covid-19. As more people stayed at home and business and travel was suspended, carbon emissions were reduced. Globally, this is expected to have caused a record reduction of 5-10%. Unfortunately, the effect of this reduction is only thought to be temporary as carbon emissions must be cut year after year to provide any long-lasting effects, due to how the greenhouse gas is retained within the atmosphere.
We cannot attempt to reduce carbon emissions in order to reach net zero targets by living in a constant lockdown, of course. But in order to reach these vital targets , evidence suggests that there must be a focus on a green recovery. Accelerating climate investments can support a wide economic recovery, whilst protecting the environment, and ensuring the UK hits its carbon reduction targets. The International Energy Agency suggest that focusing on a sustainable recovery would add 1.1% to global economic growth each year, as well as creating 9 million jobs over the next 3 years.
Carbon emissions from buildings
Buildings in the UK made up to 18% of 2019 carbon emissions. This has been identified as a key area of infrastructure to invest in to help the UK meet carbon reduction targets – the UK Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) have found after screening 7,000 studies from around the world, that retrofitting homes to make them more energy efficient is the third quickest way to reduce emissions, after reducing travel and utilising renewable energy. Efforts to reduce emissions in the domestic housing sector will be closely linked with improvements of the safety and resilience of buildings, alongside improving indoor air quality and reducing the impact of fuel poverty.
Policy and funding
The UK government’s already has some future plans to reduce the effect of poor housing on carbon emissions include:
The Green Homes Grant
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced financial support for homeowners and those living in the private rented sector during his summer budget update on the 8th of July. This funding aims to support the upgrade of 650,000 homes with £5000 vouchers for insulation measures, including vouchers of up to £10,000 for households on a low income. It is expected that this will create 140,000 green jobs as demand in this market will increase. This funding will simulate the economy through the creation of jobs, and will support the carbon reduction targets through reduced energy consumption. Think tank E3G, however, suggest that even if the programme were to continue past the current end date of March 2021, the investment will need to be raised substantially in order to hit fuel poverty targets of abolishing cold homes by 2035.
Minimum standards for new builds
The Future Homes Standard consultation was published this year, and proposed an uplift in minimum building standards for all new build properties. This includes requiring a 30% decrease in carbon emissions through installing clean heating systems and zero carbon energy generation such as solar panels. It does allow for weaker fabric standards, however, meaning there is less of a requirement to ensure the property is fully insulated and airtight. It also suggests that local authorities will no longer have the ability to demand minimum standards above that in the building regulations for local projects. Whilst this ensures a set standard across the UK, it will affect local carbon reduction targets. For example, Portsmouth City Council declared a climate emergency in March 2019, with a target of being net zero by 2030. The UK as a whole has a target of hitting net zero by 2050, and so might not require as strict minimum standards.
Minimum standards for privately rented properties
The Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards require that all privately rented domestic properties reach minimum Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings in order to reduce fuel costs for the tenants, and carbon emissions. A new target has been proposed to ensure all properties reach EPC band C by 2030, however, there is little guidance on how this standard should be enforced.
The Renewable Heat Incentive
The Government recently announced plans to replace the current Renewable Heating Incentive, which offered a tariff-based payment system for households which invested in green heating systems. This will be replaced with a small extension of £100m of funding to be spread over 2022-2024. This will provide £4,000 for households to install heat pumps as their main heating system, replacing gas boilers. Installing a heat pump can reduce carbon emissions bty up to 70% per household when used efficiently, though it does threaten higher running costs if being run on grid-bought electricity. This funding is only forecast to support the installation of 12,500 heat pumps a year, which is well below what is required in order to phase out all oil boilers this decade, and gas boilers after that.
The Climate Change Committee:
The Climate Change Committee release annual reports to parliament. In their most recent report, they provided clear suggestions on the type of plans and policies that should be brought in for the buildings sector, in order to reach the minimum carbon reduction targets.
- Oil boilers should be phased out by the end of this decade, and gas boilers should be phased out by 2035. In order to meet this, more funding is required to support low carbon heating technologies.
- Funding packages need to be offered to homeowners and to local authorities in order to meet retrofit energy efficiency targets of getting all houses to an EPC rating of C by 2035.
- More jobs need to be created and supported in the low carbon heating sector, with more regulation and monitoring to ensure high standards of installations to avoid future issues.
- Local authorities need to be give more room to drive early progress in their local areas.
- New build properties and retrofit measures need to reduce their embedded carbon emissions through switching to more sustainable materials.
- A focus on adapting households to reduce the possibility of overheating is required as a key climate change adaptation measure.
By Anttonia Lindup