The natural reaction during a crisis is to want things to return to normal. Jobs have been lost, the economy is suffering and there is an enormous amount of pressure to pick up the pace and return to ‘business as usual’. However, as the lockdown measures are delicately lifted, it is time to ask ourselves whether ‘normal’ is what we should be aiming for. When it comes to our homes and buildings, the answer is clear. In thirty years-time, greenhouse gas emissions in the UK will need to be net zero, and we will not even grasp sight of that target without a change in direction. Even as we break all-time records for the longest period of coal-free power, with national energy demand down by 15% for the month of April, global history warns us not to celebrate prematurely. Emissions have declined three times since 1959 during external shocks such as the 2008 recession, only to rise and leave a lasting impact later. To avoid this happening again, we need to relaunch the economy in the right direction by stimulating green growth.
Improving the energy efficiency of our buildings is the ideal place to start. The International Energy Agency along with the Committee on Climate Change are amongst the many organisations calling for this to be recognised by the Government within the upcoming economic stimulus package. On the surface, the benefits of measures such as insulation centre around the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by limiting heat loss and reducing energy demand and consumption. In the context of the current climate, the opportunities stretch even further. Kickstarting energy efficiency activity will create thousands of new jobs, support existing workforces, and boost economic activity in construction and manufacturing, all of which can be done quickly and at scale. Long term, this will deliver increased competitiveness, make energy more affordable, and propel us towards the 2050 climate target at speed. It would be difficult to overlook this opportunity given that the built environment is responsible for a third of UK emissions, and two thirds of homes currently fail to achieve energy efficiency targets. The latter was recognised in the Conservative manifesto last December which promised £9 billion Home Energy Upgrade Grants to improve energy efficiency in homes, schools, and hospitals.
Over the last decade, several commitments have pointed us in the right direction. The Clean Growth Strategy promised to bring all homes up to Energy Performance Certificate Band C by 2035, starting with fuel poor homes by 2030; the Future Homes Standard was announced, proposing a 31% reduction in emissions from new homes from 2025 thanks to ‘world leading levels of energy efficiency,’ and the legislation of the net zero ambition last summer signaled transformation. After a year of climate protests, green policies laced party manifestos from left to right in the December election, and after securing a landslide win for the Conservatives, Boris Johnson vowed to make Britain ‘the cleanest, greenest country on Earth.’ Fast forward to where we are today and the whole world seems to have changed, making it is easy to question whether such commitments will be pushed aside at the very time that plans need to be put into action.
There are some signs of reassurance. Last month, the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published its consultation on Support for Low Carbon Heat, indicating the Government’s unchanged commitment to heat decarbonisation. Whilst the substance of the proposals leaves many questions unanswered, the foreword of the document reaffirmed the £9 billion Home Energy Upgrade Grants due to be introduced alongside the National Infrastructure Strategy. With proposals still under development, the delivery of the £150 million allocated to the scheme during this financial year is likely to be a challenge unless progress is made within the near term. By fast-tracking policy development ahead of schedule, we can kick-start energy efficiency activity, support economic stimulus programmes and get Britain moving - a win-win opportunity in the fight against coronavirus and climate change.
Derek Horrocks, Chairman of the National Insulation Association