Climate advisers call on government to press ahead with consultations that can finalise clean heat policy design, while also filling policy gaps on home energy efficiency

The government must act now to fill significant policy and funding gaps in its headline strategy for decarbonising heat and buildings, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has warned.

An independent assessment of the Heat and Buildings Strategy published this morning by the government’s climate advisers notes the policy plan is “an important and long sought step forward” that offers a “solid foundation” for further progress.

But it notes the strategy fails to set out fully how the government aims to meet its 2035 emission reduction goals for decarbonisation of the UK’s building stock, noting that a third of the government’s projected emissions reductions remain unexplained, underfunded or unaccounted for by policies in the plan.

“Plans are not yet comprehensive or complete and significant delivery risks remain across the strategy,” the CCC noted. “Consultations need to move forward, followed rapidly by final decisions on policy design and effective implementation if the strategy’s ambitious goals are to be met.”

The strategy, published last October, set out the government’s ambitions for phasing out fossil fuel heating systems in buildings across the UK, in the process unveiling plans to grow the nascent heat pump market through new obligations for boiler manufacturers and a boiler upgrade grant scheme for households. The roadmap also outlined the government’s intention to ban gas boilers in new builds from 2025, before phasing out all sales of new gas boilers 10 years later.

While noting the strategy sets out credible policies for most types of buildings, the CCC has argued that more funding is required to drive emissions reductions in public buildings and fuel poor homes, and more robust policies needed to encourage owners of commercial and domestic buildings to switch to low carbon heat technologies and invest in green retrofits that can reduce their energy consumption.

The analysis notes that funding currently allocated for public sector buildings decarbonisation only covers around a third of what is needed to achieve the government’s goal of reducing public sector emisisons by 75 per cent between 2017 and 2037. Similarly, it argues the current plan lacks the regulatory levers that can drive the transition away from gas boilers in commercial buildings, as well as policies that can sufficiently improve the energy efficiency of homes that are not fuel poor.

The CCC conceded that the challenge of transforming how homes use energy amid a cost of living and energy bills crisis would be “tough”, but noted that multiple benefits would arise from reducing the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels at a time when wholesale gas prices are climbing to unprecedented levels and households across the UK are facing a cost-of-living crisis.

Unveiling the committee’s findings on Twitter, CCC CEO Chris Stark said reducing emissions from buildings was a major national challenge. “Our assessment shows the tangible progress the government has made, while also identifying the areas where more progress is needed,” he said. “The next five years will be crucial to build momentum for future success: growing supply chains, supporting innovation, and engaging the public.”

The CCC report notes that the government’s decision to take a market-based approach to heat and buildings decarbonisation came with both benefits and risks. While such an approach has potential upsides in terms of driving innovation, efficiency, and reduced costs to the exchequer, rapidly growing demand and supply at the same time requires an “extraordinary level of policy coordination”, it said. A “careful, consultative” approach is needed that tackles key barriers, such as the relative costs of electricity and gas and shortages of skilled installers, according to the analysis.

Warning that “time is short and more detail is needed”, the climate advisers have today urged the government to press ahead with a raft of consultations it has promised that can turn its market-based proposals into concrete policies, including those to encourage energy efficiency upgrades in owner-occupied properties, develop hydrogen-ready boilers, and enable boiler phase-outs for buildings on the gas grid. It has also called on Ministers to act on the recommendations of consultations that have now concluded, including on heat network zoning, energy efficiency regulations for the private rented sector, and a market mechanism to support heat pump deployment.

“The consultations will need to produce decisions,” the CCC said. “The government needs to move fast to complete its current engagement and clarify the fine details of how many of its policies and programmes are going to work. If nothing else, this detail is essential to enable individuals and firms to start taking action, raising finance and making spending decisions to improve homes and other buildings.”

The climate advisors have also called on the government to ensure that a raft of ‘enabling’ policies are in place that can help grow the clean heat and energy efficiency market, covering a range of issues from skills and governance to finance. For instance, they warn that stronger government action is needed to support the market in scaling up training capacity and reskilling workers, with a skills shortage at risk of becoming a major barrier to implementation of the policies in the Heat and Buildings Strategy.

Rosie Rogers, head of energy at Greenpeace UK, urged the government to address the policy and funding gaps outlined by the CCC in the upcoming Budget.

“The government must view fixing our cold, draughty homes as the frontline of our attempts to get off gas and boost our energy security,” she said. “Plugging the gaps highlighted by the government advisers with extra support, particularly for home insulation and heat pumps, are what this moment needs. The Spring Statement offers the Chancellor the opportunity to answer the call and roll out an Emergency Energy Package to get our country off gas as soon as possible.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) was considering a request for comment at the time of going to press.

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