In the run up to COP26 and next week’s Budget, the Government have published their Heat and Buildings and Net Zero Strategy document – is it a load of hot air?. It has, unsurprisingly, attracted much comment and the eye catching headline grabber of replacing gas boilers with heat pumps does come in for criticism.
Noticeable by its absence is probably the easiest and potentially better value proposal around insulating homes. It has long been suggested that the best way to make the UK’s extensive housing stock more energy efficient is by ensuring they are properly insulated. It is something which successive Governments have put some weight behind, such as Cameron’s Green Deal more recently the short lived Green Homes programme. The problem is that insulating homes could be considered by some policy wonks as ‘boring’, which is a shame because if the policy is to fit the over-arching goals of reaching net zero we much look at what will work and what is reachable /affordable by as many households as possible.
We also have to have the workforce to enact policy and this shortfall was more than demonstrated last year when the Government’s programme to speed up home insulation could not be serviced. It is time our net zero plans were developed more holistically, looking not only at the environmental side but the skills set and the fiscal impact, which has been alluded to in a very low key fashion. As fuel use decreases, so does a sizeable chunk of income to the Treasury. Although recognised in the impact assessment, there is no plan as yet to find an alternative source of income for HMT.
Having said all of that, the cost of doing nothing is far greater and whether we are climate leader or a follower, the UK must take action. But with that has to come action from the private sector and from other nations who do not seem to be taking this potential catastrophe as seriously as others. Inaction by others is not an excuse to do nothing, but without big changes from the USA and China for example will the impact of these policies be enough? Only the next generation will be able to comment on that, and perhaps by then we will see a greater cohort of world leaders who will prioritise their path to net zero over economic productivity. In the meantime, there are good signs that the UK will make some progress in changing mindsets and that is a huge step in the right direction.