The government’s recent adoption of a new target to reduce emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 put renewed focus on sectors such as international aviation and shipping which previously sat outside the UK’s Carbon Budget. But the adoption of recommendations from the Climate Change Committee also has major implications for an industry much closer to home. James Gore considers the decarbonisation challenge faced by the housing sector.
The UK has some of the most energy inefficient housing in Europe, a situation exacerbated by increased working from home during the pandemic. Many column inches have been devoted to the eye-watering cost of retrofitting existing housing stock, with the bill for the social housing sector alone estimated at more than £100bn. But, as the Climate Change Committee has pointed out, work is also needed to close the gap between design and actual performance of new homes when it comes to energy efficiency.
Improving the performance of new and existing homes requires a workforce skilled in low-carbon heating and ventilation and closing this low-carbon skills gap could provide opportunities for young people who have been hit hardest by the economic impact of Covid-19. But inspiring a generation to help make this happen requires a coordinated approach to communications from government and industry.
At the same time, the sector must do more to counter negativity around the potential cost to homeowners and landlords of meeting the decarbonisation challenge. Increasingly, organisations in the social housing sector are working together to procure services and develop the skills required to meet the decarbonisation challenge, and there is a strong case for this joined-up approach extending to the sector’s communications on this issue.
Copper’s research into public attitudes to net zero emissions in the UK suggests the public are willing to invest in new technologies if this is accompanied by some form of incentive from government. But negative media coverage about the effectiveness of replacement heating systems risks reducing people’s appetite for making the required changes. Without clearer articulation of the benefits for both individuals and society as a whole, the housing sector faces an uphill battle to convince the public the price is worth paying.
In the run up to COP26, the housing sector will have opportunities to shine a light on these challenges and showcase steps it is taking towards a low-carbon future. It is important that the sector speaks with one voice on this critical issue, making clear its ‘asks’ from government and communicating a positive message to the public about the opportunities that come from decarbonisation. By cutting through noise on this issue to communicate a clear and compelling message, the housing sector can emerge as a leader in the UK’s efforts to meet its net zero target.