Britain's draughty homes stand in the way of its climate goals

Record on insulating homes has been 'complete tale of woe' for the past decade

The average annual energy bill for UK households is around £40 more than it would be if insulation had carried on at rates delivered before policy support was removed in 2012. PA
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Poorly insulated and costly to heat homes in the UK are a major obstacle to the country's climate goals, government advisers say.

There is a “shocking” gap in government efforts to ensure homes are better insulated as energy bills soar, they said.

The independent Climate Change Committee, set up in 2008, said in its report that government plans for tackling global warming will not hit mandated emissions cut targets in the decades ahead.

It singled out action on energy efficiency to make UK homes cheaper to heat, along with a lack of progress on farming emissions, as problem areas.

In its annual report to Parliament, the committee called for action to address the rising cost of living that is in line with cutting emissions to zero overall — known as net zero — by 2050.

A fast, sustained effort to improve energy efficiency in homes and switch to electric heating, such as heat pumps, to reduce fossil fuel consumption would help people cope with high energy prices, it said.

The average annual energy bill for UK households is around £40 more than it would be if insulation had carried on at rates seen before policy support was removed by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government in 2012, and British homes are among the most least heat efficient in Europe.

The report calls for the government to consider increased funding for energy efficiency in fuel-poor homes, as well as a publicity campaign for its promised energy advice service and incentives to homeowners to improve their properties.

The committee also said it supports moving the costs of historical green subsidies off electricity bills and into general taxation to cut energy costs and encourage people to move to electric heat pumps.

But more recent arrangements for paying for renewables are saving consumers money through cheap wind power.

The installation of insulation measures “fell off a cliff” a decade ago, the committee’s chief executive, Chris Stark, said.

He described the situation as a “complete tale of woe”, with an industry hit hard by the removal of support being expected to gear up again and consumers expected to demand energy efficiency without any policy measures to support them.

“We call this shocking, that’s what it is,” he said.

“We absolutely must be doing something about this at scale; making homes better insulated is absolutely a critical factor, especially when we’re experiencing such high energy prices.”

Mr Stark said there are better ways to deal with high energy prices than the package of payments announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who, he said, should be supporting insulation to save on bills.

“There has never been a better time to insulate your house, with gas prices at the levels that they are, the pressure on imports and energy security,” said CCC director of analysis Mike Thompson.

“This is the time for the government to be bold and to help people to do what a lot of people want to do anyway,” he said.

The annual report said UK greenhouse gases are now almost half (47 per cent) their 1990 levels, with emissions rising 4 per cent in 2021 as the economy began to recover from the coronavirus but still 10 per cent below 2019 levels.

For the first time this year the committee has set out progress against a series of on-the-ground changes that need to be made to keep the UK on track to end its contribution to climate change.

Of 50 areas for action, only eight were marked as on track to deliver the necessary emissions cuts, including electric car sales, wind and solar power, and meat consumption.

Areas judged to be significantly off track include electric van sales, charging points, energy efficiency retrofits, new woodland creation, and peat restoration.

There were significant risks with the delivery on 33 per cent of the emissions cuts needed, and plans are either completely missing or currently clearly inadequate for a further 5 per cent of pollution reductions required to meet the legal “sixth carbon budget” in the 2030s.

Meeting the sixth carbon budget requires a reduction in climate pollution of 78 per cent on 1990 levels by 2035, on the way to the net-zero goal.

The report also said that the public are increasingly concerned about climate change but people are not sure how they can best take action. Greater public engagement was needed.

John Selwyn Gummer, Lord Deben, CCC chairman, said the government should provide people with the information they need in areas such as insulating homes, which he said is not being the “nanny state”, and work with local authorities to deliver on energy efficiency.

“The UK is a champion in setting new climate goals; now we must be world-beaters in delivering them,” he said.

“In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, the country is crying out to end its dependence on expensive fossil fuels.

“I welcome the government’s restated commitment to net-zero, but holes must be plugged in its strategy urgently.”

He rated the government nine out of 10 for the targets it has set, but only four out of 10 for delivery of action on climate change.

Updated: June 29, 2022, 11:03 AM