Thursday, 02 July 2020

Lord Foster of Bath

Written by Lord Foster of Bath

At the beginning of June, the Prime Minister talked of a “vital, green recovery” as we emerge from the Covid pandemic. How quickly he seems to have forgotten. By the end of the month, in his “Build, Build, Build” speech, there was little evidence that greenness was at the heart of his plan.

Certainly, there was no mention of the pressing need for a major re-fit programme of energy efficiency measures in our buildings to cut carbon emissions, to reduce energy bills, to help those in fuel poverty and to create much needed jobs.

This absence is especially surprising given the Conservative Party’s manifesto at the last election which promised a £9.2 billion boost to energy efficiency through a national programme of home insulation. It was a welcome promise. Improving the energy efficiency of properties is vital if we are to achieve our target of net zero.

Indeed, the case for such a programme is overwhelming and there is wide-ranging industry support. But, given the history of failed promises in this area, those businesses and organisations who will be needed to deliver such a programme need more than rhetoric.

As Andrew Warren, Chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, recently wrote, “On far too many occasions the energy efficiency industry has been made promises by Governments, only to see them withdrawn. This has resulted in the laying off of staff, the loss of inward investment and the closure of factories.” 

His view is widely shared. For example, last year (Feb 2019) the Committee on Climate Change published “UK housing: Fit for the future?”.

It assessed the preparedness of our housing stock for the challenges of climate change.

It concluded that the measures to reduce emissions from the UK’s 29 million homes – responsible for 17% of all carbon emissions - have stalled, energy use in homes had increased and adaptions of the housing stock to meet the impacts of changing climate are lagging far behind what is needed to keep us safe and comfortable.

Crucially it went on to say that there needed to be greater POLICY CERTAINTY since the absence of such certainty has led to skills gaps and lack of investment in construction, design and the development of new technologies needed for the major retrofit programme that is urgently needed.

More recently, within the last few weeks, more than 100 major businesses and organisations have written to the Government demanding certainty before they will consider investing and up-skilling in preparation for a major home energy insulation programme.

My “Domestic Premises (Energy Performance) Bill”, introduced into the House of Lords earlier this year, seeks to provide a very simple means by which the much-needed certainty can be delivered.

It is based on the Government’s announcements of various ambitious targets; a target to improve the energy efficiency of the homes of the fuel poor (to Band C on an Energy Performance Certificate by 2030), a target to improve the energy efficiency of the rest of the housing stock (by 2035) and a target to improve the efficiency of heating systems. And, for some of this at least, significant sums of money have been earmarked. 

My Bill merely places a duty on the Secretary of State to achieve these targets (subject to sensible caveats).

Placing them in legislation and requiring annual reports on progress provides parliament with the means to ensure the delivery of Government pledges and makes it more difficult for future governments to backtrack.

It’s an approach like the Climate Change Act (2008) which sets an overall target in law for 2050, intermediate targets (through the five yearly carbon budgets) and a duty on Government to prepare proposals and policies for meeting them and to report on them.

And crucially my Bill provides the policy certainty that the industry so desperately seeks so that they can play their part in achieving the targets.

The Minister responsible, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, at least appears supportive. At a pre-lockdown Association of Sustainable Energy event he posed (see right) with a placard supporting the Bill. But, to date, the Government has ruled out allowing the Bill to progress.

If we are to truly have a green recovery, the Government must be persuaded to change their position. 

Lord Foster of Bath is a Liberal Democrat Peer in the House of Lords.