Is the UK up to the task of retrofitting homes to zero-carbon standards?
Retrofitting energy-efficiency measures can help the UK take a huge step towards its net-zero carbon targets. But how can it do so at the speed and scale required?
A recent Ipsos Mori poll indicates climate change is only slightly behind Brexit, health and crime on the public’s list of priorities to be addressed by the next government.
The built environment contributes substantially to climate change: it accounts for 40 per cent of UK energy use and approximately one-third of emissions.
The Committee on Climate Change has warned that ‘near-full decarbonisation of heat for buildings is one of the biggest challenges in reducing emissions from the energy system’ while the World Green Building Council, in line with the Paris Agreement, recommends that all new buildings must operate at net zero carbon by 2030.
While the UK is currently legally bound to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, in its manifesto the Liberal Democrat party has declared its intention to go one step further and set the net zero target for the UK at 2045.
Setting more challenging targets is positive, but the built environment sector requires certainty in implementation and long-term policies to drive sustainable investment and net zero developments to achieve such targets. It is of vital importance that any government strategies have a clear path of financing and implementation.
The Liberal Democrat party has sought to prioritise the top sustainability issues within the built sector, including energy efficiency in homes, decarbonisation of the grid and land management.
RICS supports measures that seek to ensure existing homes are low carbon and that aim towards the net zero goal. However, we would like to ensure that top level measures to reduce emissions in buildings are not viewed in isolation. Buildings must be both low carbon and resilient to climate change impacts – mitigation and adaptation must go hand in hand.
The Liberal Democrats pledge to require all new homes and non-domestic buildings to be built to a zero carbon standard by 2021 is ambitious. How this can be achieved will need to be set out in further detail, including how investment will be sourced to grow the capacity of the renewable energy sector, which is paramount to meet such targets. Further detail is also required about the party’s pledge to invest £15bn to retrofit 26m homes by 2030.
‘The built environment accounts for 40 per cent of UK energy use and approximately one-third of emissions. Built environment professionals will therefore be essential to achieving climate change targets.’
RICS continues to call for government to consider further reductions within the VAT regime for home repairs, maintenance and improvement work, including on labour and materials. Reducing VAT would boost the adoption of a range of retrofitting measures across the housing sector and encourage homeowners to take a whole life cycle perspective of the built asset.
In our manifesto A new approach for the built and natural environment, RICS calls on the new government to undertake a full-scale review of the SDLT regime, as the current piecemeal approach has had a negligible positive effect on the UK’s residential market. RICS is ready to provide knowledge and expertise to any SDLT government review.
While the Liberal Democrats pledge on climate change is a step in the right direction, we would like to see the party go further and provide more detail on how it attends to achieve its ambitious targets.
What will it take for businesses, governments and industries to transition to renewable energy?
Dr Patrice Cairns
Policy Manager, Northern Ireland
Dr Cairns is a policy manager within the RICS UK Government Relations team. In addition to developing UK policy and promoting RICS thought leadership, Dr Cairns is responsible for leading RICS public policy work in Northern Ireland across all priority issues and key sectors. She works to build RICS' influence, credibility and profile.