UK green housing initiatives lag far behind our European counterparts, say Jon Bloomfield and Patrick Willcocks
Energy is the issue that is rising on the political agenda. Bills are rising rapidly, with a sharp rise in the government’s price cap set for April.
Listen to the voices of the right-wing press and those of the conservative “Net Zero Scrutiny Group” and the main culprits are green levies and renewable energy subsidies. Read Culture Warriors Like Academics Matthew Goodwin and they have the climate change agenda firmly in sight.
It’s a taste of the battles to come.
Climate deniers have turned into skeptics; they now profess to accept science but claim it is too difficult and expensive to fix it. They may have changed tactics and tone, but they are still deniers at heart.
As Boris Johnson’s time as Prime Minister appears to be coming to an end, climate change appears to be the new battleground for the ‘culture war’ as the hard right seeks to rally around a figure of bow seeking to reverse Johnson’s lukewarm – but real – acceptance of the climate change agenda.
The most airy accommodation in Europe
Climate skeptics never mention that UK households are particularly exposed to spikes in electricity and gas prices, as Britain has the worst quality of housing in Western Europe with the most energy-intensive houses.
Like the map below shows, on a cold day, UK households experience three times the heat loss of their German or Scandinavian counterparts. People can’t see the heat loss, but it shows on their bills.
Yet the The two government efforts to tackle the coldest and least airtight housing in Europe have been disastrous failures.
David Cameron’s flagship program – the grossly misnamed ‘Green Deal’ – aspired to be “Europe’s most innovative and transformative energy efficiency programme”. However, its annual target of two million homes renovated has struggled to reach just 6,000, less than 1% of its target.
The government model of high-interest private loans through an independent finance company simply did not work. Its wider failure was highlighted recently in an article by Carbon Panties showing how Cameron’s anti-green measures have added £2.5billion to UK energy bills since 2015.
The Tories’ second attempt at energy efficiency – the Green Homes Grant scheme – was launched in Boris Johnson’s 10-point ‘green industrial revolution’ plan. It was outsourced to US global consulting firm ICF. Of the £1.5bn pledged in its first year, only £71m – Less than 5% – has been spent. the regime was later abandonedhaving reached only 10% of the 600,000 homes that the Chancellor had promised to improve.
The top-down, ‘household as consumer’ contracting model has failed – yet the government still pursues a largely individual, household-based approach without setting an annual target for the renovation of accommodations.
Learn from Europe
It’s not just a British problem. The rapid and efficient transformation of the housing stock is one of the central tests of Europe’s zero electricity ambitions.
All the benefits of focusing on building renovation are clearly laid out in this European Commission document – notably by guaranteeing substantial emission reductions before 2030 and creating thousands of jobs.
Is Europe up to the challenge?
The agreement reached between the German Social Democrats, the Greens and the Liberals represents the most serious attempt to date by a national government developing an eco-social market economy. The combination of three parties from distinct political traditions, as well as the support of the Confederation of German Industryindicates the breadth of the coalition mobilizing around the climate change agenda.
On energy efficiency and renovation, this new German coalition can build on the impressive work undertaken by previous governments applying the country’s social market model, which gives a crucial role to state financial intervention and regulatory support. Thereby, in 2020the public reconstruction bank, KfW, in its energy efficiency programme, has granted loans and subsidies worth 27 billion euros for the renovation of nearly half a million residential units.
Decarbonize transportWhy the UK needs to change on all fronts
The contrast with Rishi Sunak’s Green Homes program is staggering. The German program is now strengthened: it covers both residential and non-residential buildings; wholesale and partial renovation; includes subsidies for a range of technologies as well as systemic measures such as the installation of digital technologies to optimize consumption; as well as grants to ensure projects are professionally planned with building owners able to consult with energy efficiency experts.
France, where buildings represent 28% of the carbon dioxide emission and global emissions have been reduced by only 3% since 1990, seeks to follow the German example.
The High Council for the Climate called for a rapid increase in the number of efficient energy renovations supported by a generous support scheme combining loans and grants.
Since January 1 of this year, all French renovation efforts have been grouped into a single national energy renovation service, “France Renov”. Last year, the service accepted 670,000 applications, more than 10 times the number in 2016, and Housing Minister Emmanuelle Wargon has set a target of one million renovations for 2022.
This plan emphasizes the need to support low-income households to ensure this is a fair transition. The former industrial areas of the north of France around Lille already show how this can be done. In Spain, Italy and elsewhere, each of the national recovery plans that complement the European Green Deal includes a significant component of energy efficiency and renovation.
This involves coordinated action by the public sector at national, regional and local level aimed at encouraging individual and collective initiatives. There is an acceptance of government investment and strong regulation, unlike small-state advocates on the conservative right.
Lobbying for change
The scale of the task in the UK is enormous.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology in its report, ‘2050 Renovation Scaling‘, advises that almost every house in the UK should be retrofitted with energy efficiency measures at a rate of more than 1.5 houses per minute until 2050. That’s just under 800,000 per year.
Labor leader Keir Starmer promised that a Labor government would spend £6billion a year for a decade to retrofit 19 million homes to a minimum C energy performance standard. That’s significant, but less than a quarter of what Germany already spends .
The Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group (EEIG), a campaign body made up of charities and business organisations, including the Confederation of British Industry, is calling on the Prime Minister to prioritize reducing the energy bill through to better insulation.
EEIG chairwoman Sarah Kostense-Winterton says “one permanent solution to lowering bills is to reduce demand through energy efficiency measures”.
How the financial sectorClimate chaos
In the short term, the EEIG wants the government to provide additional support, such as extending the “warm house discount” to vulnerable households to prevent an energy poverty emergency. The EEIG is also calling for a new £3.6billion grant or grant scheme to help all households insulate their homes. The call for isolation has been supported by MPs on the Conservative Environmental Network. But the smaller, climate-skeptical Net Zero Scrutiny group has the ear of the conservative press and dominates the media debate.
An initiative that has real potential comes from the 11 major cities forming the Central Cities Group. With the boroughs of London, they are reunited seek large-scale private sector financing for low-carbon projects. Big cities know that capital resources must be mobilized on a massive scale for mass renovation and they cannot rely on a miserly treasury which, under Sunak, seeks to reassert the Thatcherite mentality.
At the COP26 climate change summit last November, Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of England, confirmed the role of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) and claimed it had a total of 130,000 billion dollars of assets under management ready to be deployed. for low-carbon purposes around the world. NatWest is claiming a £100 billion target for decarbonisation funding by 2025. The Core Cities initiative is designed to unlock these resources and enable cities to undertake innovative energy efficiency programs across the district .
With a government in disarray and its policy options crippled as the climate-skeptical right seeks to reassert small-state thinking, it’s likely that cities and other municipalities will have to negotiate with banks – and learn how to do it from themselves. same.
Jon Bloomfield is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham and author with Fred Steward of a series of blogs on ‘Making the Green New Deal Happen‘. Patrick Willcocks is an independent policy adviser focused on cities, sustainability and creativity, based in Birmingham
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