This week saw the launch of Putting Net Zero at the heart of future UK policy, a seminal report produced by the Net Zero All-Party Parliamentary Group, WSP and other well-known industry voices.
As government prepares to publish a flurry of policies on this agenda, this report warns government that the UK is not on track to meet its net zero emissions by 2050 and that urgent action must be taken now to decarbonise power, transport, housing and land.
The reality however is that while policy matters in creating momentum and a sense of direction, this decade will be the time when decarbonisation gets personal, and when it starts to profoundly impact people’s lives. This is why keeping our communities onboard is so crucial.
Today, most of us still use a petrol car, a gas boiler and a simple energy tariff. By 2030, all this needs to change.
While offshore wind, for example, will probably be the backbone of our energy system in the future, and day to day, it won’t affect us personally. However, heating, transport and building decarbonisation do affect us. On transport, electric vehicles are probably the best place to start as they will be cheaper and better in almost every way for the user.
For homes, switching to heat pumps for domestic heating as a near-term solution will undoubtedly reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but they are more expensive and less familiar to use. Sometimes, it will even mean internal changes to our homes and other buildings. On this, we first need clear support in the new-build and existing homes sector from government.
For existing homes, we should be talking about one million heat pump installations per annum needed in the long-term, as well as the integration of smarter home energy management systems. While the Green Homes Grant may fulfil a short-term role, it needs to evolve into a long-term sustainable programme, so that the market has confidence.
Using EPC ratings as a ratchet may work but we need to be more confident in their quality and the correlation with actual performance. Research shows people are keen on decarbonising their homes, however it also shows that they don’t fully understand how. This also needs to change.
The net-zero requirements for new homes is a low hanging fruit, but work still needs to be done on alignment. As the report notes, we need to be building them right now, so we aren’t locking in construction or systems that we know will need to be retrofitted in few years. The fact that the Building Regulations have not been updated since 2014 also urgently needs to be addressed.
Government consulted on this in 2019 but we are still awaiting a strategy. The planning white paper reconfirms the target to have the Future Homes Standard, so new homes will be ‘zero-carbon ready’. But that still means over one million homes will be built to sub-par zero-carbon standards in the meantime.
As we all know, having targets is one thing but achieving them is the real task. WSP has recently committed to halving the carbon footprint of all designs and advice by 2030, and I hope this report helps policymakers implement the right measures so we can achieve a net zero transition across the UK.