UK's Covid-19 recovery package must mandate building retrofits, 100 businesses tell Ministers

EDF, Dimplex and Kingspan are among the cohort of 100+ businesses, investors and trade bodies calling for the UK's Covid-19 recovery package to contain legally-binding measures for addressing wasted energy and carbon emissions from housing.

Retrofitting would spur progress towards key emissions targets while creating jobs and cutting NHS costs, the letter argues

Retrofitting would spur progress towards key emissions targets while creating jobs and cutting NHS costs, the letter argues

In a letter coordinated by the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA) and sent to Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng, signatories call for progress on the Domestic Premises (Energy Performance) Bill to continue to time, despite the impacts which the pandemic has had on the policymaking process.

The Bill will require all fuel-poor homes to reach energy performance (EPC) standard level C by 2030, with this requirement extending to all other homes by 2035. These commitments were notably included in the Conservative Party’s manifesto at the December 2019 general election.

SEA members want Ministers to collaborate closely with business to ensure that these targets are set and a credible plan for developing them designed and implemented. They argue that investment by the Government into retrofits for domestic properties would bring about a number of benefits beyond decarbonisation, such as the creation of jobs in the short-term as the UK economy rebounds from the impacts of Covid-19 and reduced costs for the NHS. On the latter, the SEA believes than £2bn could be saved annually in England alone, through reduced rates of respiratory diseases, heart diseases, circulatory diseases and mental health problems.

On decarbonisation itself, the letter warns that the UK risks missing its own EPC targets, fifth Carbon Budget and long-term net-zero targets without legally-binding mandates on energy efficiency, as this policy support would send a strong signal to investors and manufacturers to scale up investment and production in both the short-term and long-term.

“It is now fundamental that we see commitment and action from Government in supporting the Bill if we want to achieve a housing stock fit for future generations, have far-reaching implications in tackling climate change and help the least well off whilst we do so,” said Lord Foster, who is taking the Bill forward in the House of Lords.

The Bill has received cross-party support to date and Kwarteng had previously said that the Government would “legislate for the same thing” if it proved unsuccessful. Nonetheless, concerns that the Covid-19 crisis will delay policymaking persist across the UK’s green economy. The White Paper for energy and National Infrastructure Strategy have notably both been shelved, and progress on the Agriculture and Fisheries Bills were paused.

What’s the context?

As of 2017, 2.5 million households in the UK were classed as fuel-poor. Areas facing the problem most acutely include Yorkshire, Liverpool and Manchester.

More broadly, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) concluded that energy use in homes accounted for 14% of national emissions in 2016. This proportion was down slightly on 2008, but the Committee has repeatedly warned that progress had been too slow to meet event the UK’s original Climate Change Act target, let alone its updated 2050 goal of net-zero.

In its most recent progress report to Parliament, published this week, the CCC called for the transition to a sustainable heat networks model, with more than 1.5 million heat pumps being deployed annually in the early 2030s; the creation of new and gradually tightening mandates for emissions from existing and new buildings of all kinds and better supports for retrofits. 

Retrofitting also received significant mention in several other key missives on creating a “green” coronavirus recovery, including those penned by the IEA and Aldersgate Group. Recent analysis from Reports and Markets concluded that the global insulation materials market will reach a market size of $71bn (£57bn) within seven years, up 4.6% on present levels, if nations deliver appropriate recovery packages.

Away from existing buildings, the Government is developing mandates for new developments, including the Future Homes Standard. This Standard is due to come into effect in the latter half of 2020, covering England only. In its current form, it includes a headline goal to reduce the carbon intensity of new builds by 75% by 2025, which ministers plan to deliver through fresh mandates for housebuilders on triple glazing, low-carbon heating systems, onsite renewable generation and energy-efficient building fabrics. The 75% target is down from an initial proposal of 80%. 

Some green groups are pushing for the Standard to be implemented for other UK nations as well, and for its requirements to be stricter.  

Sarah George



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