The coalition’s flagship insulation programmes have failed to put the UK on the right track to meet its commitments on cutting greenhouse gases, a review by the statutory advisers on climate change has found.

The number of cavity wall insulations – one of the most effective measures for cutting energy use – has plunged by more than two-thirds owing to a change in government schemes to encourage insulation.

The judgement is the first clear statutory assessment of the Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation, the government’s twin schemes to cut energy wastage by investing in efficiency measures for domestic properties, and has found both wanting.

The Green Deal, under which householders can apply for loans to provide their homes with energy-savings installations such as insulation, has long been criticised for failing to attract enough takers, partly because the cost of paying back the loans is so high.

The Energy Company Obligation, under which the big six energy generators and others had to provide insulation to a large number of households in social housing and vulnerable situations, was also drastically changed by the current government, resulting in a far lesser obligation on the companies.

If policies remain the same, the UK will cut carbon dioxide emissions by only about 21% to 23% from 2013 to 2025, compared with the government’s own targets of a reduction of 31% over the same period, according to the Committee on Climate Change, the body set up under the Climate Change Act to provide independent advice to ministers on how to meet carbon targets.

Adrian Gault, of the CCC, told the Guardian that the interest rate currently charged on homes wishing to make improvements such as loft or cavity wall insulation, or double glazing, should be halved to about 3.5% in order to attract takers.

The current scheme, under which householders can take out long term loans of as much as 25 years with interest rates of as much as 8%, rather than receive grants or other incentives, as under previous schemes, has resulted in a substantial decline in the number of people gaining insulation, according to recent research.

The CCC reported on Tuesday that progress on energy efficiency had ‘plummeted’ – for instance, more than 600,000 cavity walls were insulated in 2012 but only 170,000 were in 2013. 

The authors of the CCC report said the green deal and ECO schemes should be altered to provide more of incentive to people to take up the opportunities, which account for a large slice of the UK’s ability to cut emissions.

Climate change campaigners said the report showed the government was not on track to meet its obligations.

Simon Bullock, senior climate change campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “The wettest winter on record should be a wake-up call that the impacts of climate change are already battering Britain, and without tougher action they will only get worse.” He quoted the CCC report in saying that the investment in measures to lower greenhouse gas emissions could provide a boost to the UK economy. But he warned that ministers, instead of pursuing these advantages, were “sleeping at the helm”.

UK carbon emissions have stalled in recent years after two decades of falling, owing in part to the use of coal rather than gas in power generation. Coal has been cheap because the US has been using a lot less of it, as it has turned to indigenously-produced shale gas, but in the EU it will be curtailed as regulations on other emissions from coal-fired power stations bite. 

Paul King, chief executive of the UK’s Green Building Council, added: “While the government has clearly made good progress on some of its efforts to cut carbon, the [report] exposes the lack of headway on on energy efficiency within our buildings – and, in particular, an unravelling of the previous good work on home energy efficiency. Time is running out.”

In a statement, the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “The Climate Change Committee recognises the good progress we have made in many areas with emissions now around 24% lower than in 1990 and renewables producing 15% of all the UK’s electricity generation. By cleaning our power supply, making homes and businesses more energy efficient and driving low carbon growth across industry we are confident the UK’s carbon emissions will continue to fall at an increasing rate.”

Fiona Harvey

This article first appeared in the Guardian 

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network

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