Leading green groups have written to the Chancellor, urging him to prioritise capital investment in decarbonising the UK’s homes in his economic statement, due next week. The letter says this needs to include honouring a manifesto pledge to spend £9.2 billion on making buildings energy efficient and a ‘cash for clunkers’ scheme to exchange old gas and oil-fired boilers for heat pumps.
The move follows the speech this week by the Prime Minster in which he said the Government would ‘build, build, build’ to tackle the UK economic crisis but failed to announce funding for the biggest infrastructure challenge facing Britain, the greening of existing homes.
The charities, which include E3G, CPRE, Friends of the Earth, We Are Possible, Greenpeace and Green Alliance, are calling for £2.3 billion a year to be invested in helping households to decarbonise their heating in addition to the investment needed for insulating homes. To kick start a zero-carbon heating transformation, the charities want a £100 million Clean Heat Grant programme for heat pumps, announced in the budget, to be brought forward to this year as a ‘Cash for Clunkers’ heat scheme to exchange old fossil fuel-fired boilers for heat pumps.
The Committee on Climate Change said in their annual progress report last week that action to decarbonise homes should be the Government’s number one carbon cutting investment priority. Homes and other buildings are responsible for over a quarter (27%) of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions – more than from surface transport, and industry – but emissions reduction from heating buildings has flat-lined in recent years.
The charities say heat pumps are the fastest way to decarbonise home heating systems in the next ten years and should be prioritised for support. Government support for heat pumps has been negligible so far, with only 10,000 heat pumps installed in UK buildings last year, compared to 60,000 customers who were connected to the gas grid.
To get on track to net-zero, E3G estimates that over one million heat pumps will need to be installed each year. The UK is near the bottom of the European league table for renewable heat, ranking 25th out of 28 countries, with 92% of our heating coming from fossil fuels. The green groups are also calling on the government to set a target for emissions from heating to be halved by 2030.
The National Infrastructure Commission estimates it will require redirected public and private investment of around £200 billion to decarbonise the UK’s buildings, which can play a critical role in boosting the economy and jobs. But the Prime Minister failed to announce any capital funding for this critical net-zero challenge in his economic recovery speech. The Chancellor will set out his economic stimulus plans in a statement due next week, on Wednesday 8th July.
In the letter to the Chancellor, the groups say that the UK must support the development of hydrogen as part of the UK’s transition to zero-carbon heavy industry and freight but warn that this is not the right solution for heating homes and workplaces. They warn that using blue hydrogen, sourced from methane, with a carbon capture and storage (CCS) system fitted to bury the emissions, is not net-zero compatible at the scale required for heating buildings. This is due to the high level of greenhouse gas emissions that leak from the gas supply chain. It would also risk keeping the UK hooked on fossil fuels for decades to come.
Ed Matthew, Associate Director at climate change think tank E3G said:
“Investing in the decarbonisation of our homes, including in energy efficiency and heat pumps, can create more jobs across the UK than any other capital infrastructure programme. It is the perfect economic stimulus to boost jobs and can help get us on track to net-zero and solve fuel poverty. No other infrastructure programme can do so much for people in every part of the country. If the Government is serious about building our way out of the recession, it must prioritise the re-building of our homes to make them zero carbon.”
Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said:
“‘Putting more money into decarbonising our homes and buildings is essential. Right now, our leaky housing stock is fueling the climate emergency which disproportionately affects countryside communities, many of whom may be suffering fuel poverty as well as extreme weather events. The chancellor has a real opportunity to turn this around to create new green jobs, especially in hard hit rural communities, while helping to get us back on track in facing up to the climate crisis. Looking ahead, a Future Homes Standard is needed as soon as possible, so that new housing becomes part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Only then can the government claim to be building back better.”