Can the UK meet carbon requirements by 2050?
Climate change has been high on the agenda in 2019 – and it’s not an issue that is likely to go away any time soon. From climate emergencies being declared all over the world to the actions by Extinction Rebellion in the autumn, it’s certainly a hot topic right now. At the centre of it all is what countries need to do in order to make real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and meet climate change targets. This year the UK became the first major economy to pass a net zero emissions law, requiring greenhouse gas emissions be reduced to net zero by 2050 – but is that possible?
The relevance of domestic housing
Although industrial emissions and transport are often identified as the most problematic obstacles to halting climate change, domestic housing stock also has a lot of relevance. In fact, in the UK domestic housing stock accounts for around a fifth of the entire country’s emissions. The majority of these emissions come from heating and hot water.
The green deal scheme – which was launched in 2013 – was designed to improve domestic energy efficiency in UK homes but was abandoned after take up fell far below expectations. The scheme was designed to provide support for householders with the up front costs of energy improvement measures, such as installing insulation, double glazing and measures such as solar panels. However, it was structured as loans that turned out to be too expensive for consumers and so take up was low.
A one-off deep retrofit?
A recent report has identified that meeting the target of 80% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 would require significant policy change. While the construction sector may be standing by to make this happen it’s governmental intervention that is necessary. The report authors recommend a “national programme for a one-off deep retrofit of all residential property.”
While the cost of retrofitting a single home is high – around £17,000 – there are many benefits to such an approach, including warmer homes, lower energy bills and significant emissions reductions. The technology, skills and materials for a deep retrofit fit like this are already all in existence – according to the report what is missing is the failure of the UK to harness this and put it into practice.
Energy use is rising
While emissions levels have stalled the Committee on Climate Change has warned that energy use is rising in UK homes and there is an urgent need for government driven policy to evolve housing stock to make it more efficient. In its report “UK housing: fit for the future?” the Committee recommends a number of key measures, including:
- Enforcing building standards to ensure retrofitting of environmental improvements to existing homes and that new homes meet set standards
- Treasury support for retrofitting to existing homes
- Looking at the funding gaps for low carbon heating sources
- Providing more training in new technologies and green design
- Preferential mortgage rates for owners of energy efficient and low-carbon homes
Whether the UK can meet the targets it has set for 2050 will depend considerably on the way that the government approaches the need to improve the energy efficiency of UK housing stock to prepare it for climate change.
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 Institution of Engineering and Technology and Nottingham Trent University report