Government measures needed to get tough on housing stock to meet carbon reduction targets

Legally binding carbon reduction targets will not be met in the UK unless the Government takes steps to tackle the “increasingly uncomfortable and unsafe” existing housing stock and implements stringent measures around new build projects.

That is the conclusion of a report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

The report criticises the withdrawal of key low-carbon policy frameworks, notably the zero carbon homes scheme

The CCC’s ‘UK housing: Fit for the future?’ report warns that the UK Climate Change Act target of reducing emissions to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050 will not be reached without the “near-complete elimination” of emissions from UK buildings.

It claims there is a skills gap in housing design and construction, which has led to emissions from the UK’s 29 million homes stalling rather than shrinking.

At the same time, the UK housing stock is unprepared for future climate impacts, the report states with approximately 4.5 million homes suffering from overheating, while 1.8 million are located in areas of significant flood risks. The report warns that water scarcity and increased temperatures could create unsafe and detrimental living conditions for UK citizens.

The CCC’s chair, Lord Deben, said: “Simply put, there is no way in which the UK can meet the legally binding climate change targets that Parliament has determined unless we take the measures outlined in this report.”

Energy use in homes increased in 2016 and accounts for 14% of total UK emissions. However, the report claims that existing technology could deliver high-quality, low-carbon and climate-resilient homes, if new policies can plug the existing skills and knowledge gaps.

The report criticises the withdrawal of key low-carbon policy frameworks, notably the zero carbon homes scheme, and claims that policies that boost uptake of low-carbon technologies could save households in new homes between £70 and £260 on annual energy bills.

The report also recommends that energy efficiency measures, like insulation, should be a priority for the existing housing stock, while new homes should be built to be low-carbon, water-efficient and climate-resilient. By 2025, no new homes should be connected to the gas grid, and the report urges the UK Government to secure funding for low-carbon heating beyond 2021 and for local authorities to be given greater resources to plan and design new homes.

Ministers are also urged to launch a nationwide training programme as part of the Industrial Strategy’s Construction Sector deal. The £420m deal provides a framework for the built environment sector to halve the energy use of new buildings by 2030.

The CCC’s Adaption Committee’s chair Baroness Brown added: “The Government now has an opportunity to act. There must be compliance with stated building designs and standards. We need housing with low-carbon sources of heating. And we must finally grasp the challenge of improving our poor levels of home energy efficiency.

“As the climate continues to change, our homes are becoming increasingly uncomfortable and unsafe. This will continue unless we take steps now to adapt them for higher temperatures, flooding and water scarcity. Our report shows that this work has barely begun.”