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Urgent heat policy reform urged to ensure viable UK decarbonisation

Clear policy and scaled-up testing of technologies that can help decarbonise buildings is identified as one of several vital commitments needed to realise the government’s net zero carbon targets

A lack of detailed commitments to decarbonise buildings and incentivise the uptake of more energy efficient solutions are among a range of factors undermining the government’s 2050 net zero carbon goal.

Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee has set out a range of recommendations to ensure efforts to fully eliminate or offset carbon emissions nationally within 31 years were viable.

These calls include introducing a heating strategy with clear commitments and support for large-scale trials of different heating technologies such as heat pumps and hydrogen appliances that can transform homes and office buildings.

Previous concerns raised by the influential Committee on Climate Change (CCC) were also cited in the report as a warning that the UK was not currently expected to meet legally binding carbon budget targets for 2023 and 2032. Failure to set out clear policy for these shorter targets has led to the Science and Technology Committee raising doubts about whether the UK’s longer-term, stricter net zero carbon emissions can realistically be met.

Climate emergency

Committee chair Norman Lamb said that despite parliament ‘s decision to declare a climate emergency over fears about rising global temperatures, government was not backing its ambitious targets with clear policy.

Mr Lamb said that it was therefore time for Whitehall to put its words into clear action.

He added, “The government’s own projections suggest that the UK is not currently on track to meet its current emission targets, let alone net zero by 2050.”

“The rate of deployment of several key low-carbon technologies is significantly lower than what is required to meet the government’s ambitions, and various stakeholders expressed concern at the current and projected rate of progress of the UK’s decarbonisation.”

Mr Lamb said that ten key areas had been identified by the committee as realistic and achievable opportunities for change that could be implemented by government to strengthen its decarbonisation efforts.

Alongside more detailed strategies on decarbonising heat that make use of evidence-based policy decisions, the committee has also demanded a reformed incentive programme to improve domestic energy efficiency. One example given was in the form of introducing a ‘help to improve’ scheme over the next 12 months that can grant funding and interest-free loans to homeowners to reduce energy needs in a property.

The committee said, “In order to incentivise homeowners to install energy efficiency improvements, the government should consider adjusting Stamp Duty so that it varies according to the energy performance of the home as well as the price paid for it.”

“Homebuyers should then be able to make energy efficiency improvements within a defined time after purchasing the property, and claim back corresponding reductions in the Stamp Duty paid retrospectively.”

Carbon capture needs

More direct action from government and specific targets to introduce carbon capture, usage and storage programmes was also demanded in the report. The committee said this should include details on how government would quantify CCS ‘deployment at scale’, how costs can be shared with industry over implementing such technology and what key milestones there are for introducing systems seen as a vital part of supporting more sustainable heat.

The findings said, “The government should learn from previous carbon capture and storage projects and ensure that a sufficient number of projects, of sufficient scale, are undertaken to optimise the chance of successful deployment, and that the knowledge gained from publicly-funded work is publicly accessible.”

Recent findings from the CCC were critical about the amount of work undertaken in the UK to introduce and trial carbon capture solutions when compared to other European countries.

The Science and Technology Committee has called for greater support to aid local authorities and the general public to realise low-to-no carbon solutions, such as through low-cost and longer-term financing.

The report said, “For members of the public, the government should publish an easily accessible central guide explaining what measures households can take to support decarbonisation and r-introduce a bespoke telephone and visiting advice service.”

Other recommendations also set out in the committee’s findings include a need for advice on transforming the entire UK transport network to curb vehicle emissions, methods to remove greenhouse gas from the atmosphere and reshaping the national energy supply with a focus on renewables.

Decisions on all these issues will have a significant impact on heat policy and the built environment up to 2050 as a reflection of the increasingly interconnected nature of building functions, energy infrastructure and transportation networks.

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