UK has isolation ‘challenge’, Business Secretary admits after critical report

The Business Secretary has admitted that more needs to be done on home insulation, after a highly critical report from climate advisers.

Climate advisers have warned of a “shocking” gap in government efforts to ensure homes are better insulated in the face of rising energy bills.

On Wednesday night, Kwasi Kwarteng defended the government’s record on climate change, while indicating that a new plan on isolation may be in the works.

Kwarteng said the government had ambitious targets on things like offshore wind power, but admitted there were “challenges” in areas like insulation.

He was grilled about the gap between government ambition and real-life politics on ITV’s Peston show, where he also faced questions about the proposed Cumbrian coal mine.

“We’ve had a few bites of this cherry in terms of home insulation,” he said.

“One of the problems we have is that we have the oldest housing stock in Western Europe.

“Our homes are generally, on average, older and less energy efficient than the average in many European countries, and that is mainly due to historical reasons.

“And we have a real challenge there.

“And that’s why we want to look at energy efficiency schemes.”

He said that the Government was hoping to be able to launch another energy efficiency scheme.

The latest report from the Climate Change Committee warns that government plans to tackle global warming will fall short of legal emissions reduction targets for decades to come.

And the independent advisory committee highlighted energy efficiency to make UK homes leakier and cheaper to heat, along with inaction on agricultural emissions, as particular problem areas.

In its annual report to Parliament on progress made in tackling the UK’s contribution to climate change, the committee called for action to be taken to tackle the rising cost of living which is in line with reducing emissions to zero overall. , known as net zero, by 2050.

A quick and sustained push 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, he said.

The average annual energy bill for UK households is around £40 more than it would be if isolation had continued at rates seen before policy support was removed in 2012, and British households find themselves among those with the most heat leaks in Europe.

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

The committee also said it supports shifting the costs of historic green subsidies from electricity bills to general taxes to lower energy costs and encourage people to switch to electric heat pumps.

But the latest arrangements to pay for renewables are saving consumers money through cheap wind power.

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

He described the situation as a “complete woe story”, with an industry devastated by the removal of support in 2012 expected to gear up again and consumers expected to demand energy efficiency without any policy to support them.

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

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

Stark said there are better ways to deal with high energy prices than the payments package announced by Foreign Minister Rishi Sunak, who he said should support insulation to save on bills.

CCC Research Director Mike Thompson said: “There has never been a better time to insulate your home, with gas prices at the levels they are, pressure on imports and energy security.

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

Asked about the criticism on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, Energy and Clean Growth Minister Greg Hands could not say whether the UK was building houses that would later need to be refurbished.

“The report was released today and I will have to look into that specific charge,” he said.

Citing a figure of £6.6bn over the course of this parliament, Hands said there was “a huge amount of public money” going into energy efficiency.

“What I would say is that we have made a lot of progress in terms of our existing housing stock over the last decade,” he added.

The annual report says UK greenhouse gases are now nearly half (47%) of 1990 levels, with emissions rising 4% in 2021 as the economy began to recover from Covid-19. 19, but still 10% below 2019 levels.

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

Of the 50 key areas for action, only eight were given the green light as being clearly on track to achieve the necessary emissions cuts, including electric car sales, wind and solar power, and meat consumption.

Areas considered significantly deviant include electric van sales, charging points, energy efficiency retrofits, new forest creation, and peat restoration.

There were significant risks with delivering the 33% of emissions reductions needed, and plans are missing entirely or are currently clearly inadequate for an additional 5% of pollution reductions required to meet the statutory “sixth carbon budget” in the 2030s.

Meeting the sixth carbon budget requires a 78% reduction in climate pollution from 1990 levels by 2035, on the path to net-zero emissions.

The report also warns that the public is increasingly concerned about climate change, but people are unsure of the best course of action, and greater public involvement is needed.

CCC Chairman Lord Deben said the government should provide people with the information they need in areas such as home isolation, which he said is not being the “nanny state”, and work with local authorities to achieve energy efficiency.

He added: “The UK is a champion in setting new climate targets; now we must be world leaders in delivering them.

“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 reaffirmed commitment to net zero, but the holes in its strategy need to be plugged urgently.”

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

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