22 March 2021

Drive to net zero threatened by emissions from homes, MPs warn

22 March 2021

The Government’s legally-binding target to get to net-zero emissions by 2050 will be missed without urgent action to “decarbonise” the UK’s housing stock, MPs have warned.

In a highly critical report, the Commons Environmental Audit Committee said ministers had “significantly underestimated” the cost of upgrading the energy efficiency of domestic homes.

It said the “botched” implementation of policies had been “nothing short of disastrous” resulting in a “chronic” skills shortage in the home retrofit sector and leaving the Government with a “colossal task” if it was to achieve its climate change aspirations.

Overall policy is piecemeal and not delivering at the scale or pace required

The committee said the Government’s own experts had warned the targets enshrined in law would not be met without the “near-complete elimination” of greenhouse gas emissions from the UK’s 29 million homes.

However reductions in household emissions had now “stalled,” with around 19 million properties in the UK in need of some form energy efficiency upgrade.

It said dealing with the problem could be “far more costly” than the Government’s estimate of £35 billion to £65 billion – with bills of £18,000 for retrofitting a home, even before the installation of a heat pump.

“The retrofit of the existing housing sector needs much greater focus and is at risk of letting the rest of the economy down on decarbonisation. The task is colossal,” the committee said.

“Overall policy is piecemeal and not delivering at the scale or pace required.”

Government investment to improve energy efficiency has been woefully inadequate

It added: “Energy efficiency is a precursor to the transition to low-carbon heat, so action must be taken in the 2020s to set homes on a decarbonisation trajectory to meet our net-zero targets.”

The committee was particularly critical of the Green Homes Grant scheme which offers vouchers of up to £5,000 – or £10,000 for those on low incomes – for homeowners to make their properties energy efficient.

It said the programme had been “rushed in conception and poorly implemented,” achieving just 10% of its target to upgrade 600,000 homes in six months.

“In its haste to create a scheme to deliver economic stimulus, the Government failed to consult industry adequately on its delivery, set a timescale which was overly short-term and has presided over scheme administration which appears nothing short of disastrous,” it said.

“The impact of its botched implementation has had devastating consequences on many of the builders and installers that can do the work, who have been left in limbo as a result of the orders cancelled and time taken to approve applications.”

The committee urged the Government to cut the costs to homeowners by reducing VAT on energy-saving materials and the labour element of refurbishment work to 5% while working with the financial sector to improve the uptake of “green” financial products.

The committee chairman Philip Dunne said that while the Government had pledged £9 billion at the 2019 general election, there appeared to be “no plan nor meaningful delivery”.

“Government investment to improve energy efficiency has been woefully inadequate,” he said.

“Realism needs to be injected into the Government. A much better understanding of cost, pace, scale and feasibility of skills development is desperately needed for net-zero Britain.”

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