Energy-efficient housing to be key in UK net zero emissions goal

Housing in London in 2010. © Jorge Royan / / CC BY-SA 3.0

The UK government must set out how they plan to improve the energy efficiency of the country’s housing stock in order to meet climate change targets, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has warned.

In a wide-ranging report published yesterday, the CCC said that poor quality and energy-inefficient homes must be tackled if the UK wishes to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, which it is still yet to commit to.

The report stressed the importance of improving the energy efficiency of housing, with poorer and more vulnerable parts of society more likely to be affected by energy inefficient homes.

The CCC says that almost all household heating should be low carbon by 2050 with average heating emissions reduced to below 0.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (0.1 tCO2e) in 2050.

This could be done via replacing gas boilers with low-carbon heating systems such as heat pumps or hydrogen boilers, or by improving the fabric of homes such as installing insulation and new windows, it said.

The report admitted that while these energy-efficiency improvements will have up-front costs, there is a ‘manageable cost’ to these challenges with savings made further down the line.

It said this will also lead to more comfortable homes, saving the NHS the health cost of conditions exacerbated by poor housing, currently estimated to be around £1.4 – 2bn a year in England alone.

‘Our net-zero scenarios imply a significant roll-out of energy efficiency measures in new and existing homes (around 6 million cavity walls, 6 million solid walls and 21,000 loft insulation measures),’ the report said.

‘High efficiency in new homes and retrofitted to existing homes can address poor thermal efficiency, overheating, indoor air quality and moisture in the round. This would result in thermally comfortable homes, reducing the risk of heat and cold-related deaths.’

The CCC’s report also makes clear its vision for how homes should be built both in their materials and their location in communities.

One suggestion given is for construction to use more sustainable biomass such as sustainable sawn logs, allowing for more carbon sequestration in new UK housing and non-residential buildings.

The CCC emphasised that local authorities are well placed to understand the needs and opportunities in their local area, although they said there are ‘questions’ over whether they have the resources to contribute strongly to reducing emissions.

However, local authorities can make an important contribution in their transport planning, by providing infrastructure for walking, cycling and electric vehicles and making sure that new housing developments are designed with public transport access in mind, the report said.

Responding to the report, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark said: ‘Few subjects unite people across generations and borders like climate change and I share the passion of those wanting to halt its catastrophic effects.

‘This report now sets us on a path to become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely.’

Yesterday the UK Green Building Council announced its new framework definition for net zero carbon buildings, which was hailed as a ‘catalyst’ towards helping developers create a net zero carbon built environment in the UK.

Image credit: © Jorge Royan / / CC BY-SA 3.0

Chris Ogden
Digital News Reporter


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