One of my neighbours, who shall remain nameless, continues to challenge me on the purpose of COP26. How will it actually affect us? Isn’t it all, as climate activist Greta Thunberg has suggested, just “blah, blah, blah”? In truth, faith in COP26 becoming a genuinely revolutionary moment in the battle against climate change is likely misplaced, though it does represent a defining opportunity to revisit our net-zero strategy, of which an important part will be the government’s Heat & Building Strategy.
It is estimated that 19 million homes in the UK are graded D or below for performance, with A being the best, and G the worst. Buildings are responsible for about a quarter of greenhouse emissions, with the majority of this from residential developments.
There has been some progress over the past few years. In 2020, grants had been offered up to £5,000 (or £10,000 for those on low income) towards a range of home insulation and efficiency measures, however, the programme was cut short due to supposed lack of demand.
Also, in November that year, as part of the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for Green Industrial Revolution, Greener Buildings – The Future Homes Standard was introduced. This proposed the elimination of fossil fuel systems in all new-build dwellings from 2025-onward, through the implementation of energy efficient building fabric and low and zero-carbon technologies, such as heat pumps and solar panels.
The sense, however, is that these plans have either not worked or are taking too long, and with the looming expectation of a 30% increase in energy prices next Spring, the issue is something we all need solving as soon as possible.
Our existing nuclear power solutions will need to be decommissioned within the next 15 years, the over reliance on Norwegian gas shows no signs of dissipating, and we have been slow to adopt green energy. All this suggests that to avoid continued spikes in energy bills and consumption, building more energy efficient homes is a crucial first step, and we will need more grants, the involvement of council stock, and a plan for implementation to achieve this.
Of course, the long-term challenge is more complicated, and the solution is not only a matter of grants and investment but training, standards, and an overall cultural change. In a Nesta report in June 2021, 85% percent of consumers agreed in theory that energy consumption needed to be reduced but that behaviours weren’t changing fast enough. Over 50% also associated gas with being easy to use, convenient, or reliable.
To reach net zero by 2050, we will need to both reduce demand for heat, by making our homes more energy efficient, and decarbonise it, by switching to renewable heating systems.
Whilst the long-term solution to these issues remains both culturally and politically contingent, better insulated homes can be achieved quickly and with comparative ease.