Written evidence submitted by Mr Gavin Watts (DHH0062)
My name is Gavin Watts. I am just a UK resident with an active interest in climate change and sustainability. I am a member of Citizens' Climate Lobby, which is calling for the introduction of a Carbon Fee & Dividend, but my personal awareness goes beyond this specific viewpoint.
What has been the impact of past and current policies for low carbon heat, and what lessons can be learnt, including examples from devolved administrations and international comparators?
One important lesson can be learnt from Northern Ireland's Renewable Heat Incentive scandal of 2012-2016. The scheme offered incentives so that business and non-domestic users would change to renewable energy. However, the incentives were too generous, effectively paying people to heat properties, and led to a committed spend of £490m rather than the budgeted £25m.
As I understand it, the coalition government introduced a Zero Carbon Homes Standard which was subsequently cancelled in 2016. This is being replaced by a Future Homes Standard which is currently planned to come into force in 2025. In the meantime, around 1 million new homes have been built (with more to follow) that we know will need to be added to the list of those requiring expensive retrofitting. In February 2019, a report from the Committee on Climate Change stated that retrofitting of low-carbon heating is about 5 times as costly as installing a system into a new home. Surely it makes more economic sense to invest in ensuring all new build properties meet the necessary environmental standards, even if this does mean the rate of retrofitting has to slow slightly. These would provide a good benchmark for existing homes and, by not adding more properties to the retrofit list, would also help to clear the workload much quicker.
I also understand it is the case that as improved environmental regulations come into being, new properties previously given planning permission but not yet built are only expected to meet the lower standards. This is another situation where it would be beneficial to support developers in adapting their plans and achieving the new higher standards. Also, where it is clear that future regulations will be coming but the technology isn't ready yet, it makes sense to factor in an element of "future-proofing" so that improvements can be made at the appropriate time with a minimal amount of structural work being required.
I couldn't find any reports to back this up but I have a vague recollection from the 2008 financial crash, in which social landlords were prepared to invest in privately built properties that no longer had any buyers. The problem, though, was that these properties didn't meet the more strict criteria that social landlords would need to abide by, so could not be purchased. If this was the case, it highlights the need for all properties to be held to the same standard, regardless of who is building them and who they are intended for.
What key policies, priorities and timelines should be included in the Government's forthcoming "Buildings and Heat Strategy" to ensure that the UK is on track to deliver Net Zero? What are the most urgent decisions and actions that need to be taken over the course of this Parliament (by 2024)?
I would encourage you to read the White Paper recently published by the Zero Carbon campaign:
This covers a reduction of CO2 emissions across the UK generally but, in relation to decarbonising heat in homes, it recommends:
Pricing proposal for carbon:
Other regulation and legislation needed:
How can the costs of decarbonising heat be distributed fairly across consumers, taxpayers, business and government, taking account of the fuel poor and communities affected by the transition? What is the impact of the existing distribution of environmental levies across electricity, gas and fuel bills on drivers for switching to low carbon heating, and should this distribution be reviewed?
As a member of the Citizens' Climate Lobby, I believe one of the most effective ways to reduce CO2 emissions, while protecting those most at risk of fuel poverty, is via Carbon Fee & Dividend. This would impose a steadily rising price on carbon 'at source', with the proceeds being redistributed as an equal dividend to all citizens. Those with the most carbon intensive lifestyles (usually those with higher incomes) would effectively be subsidising those who use the least (usually those with lower incomes).
The work of the Zero Carbon campaign touches on our approach with this recommendation for compensating households:
"In our view, households in the bottom three income deciles should be compensated for increased costs above current bills. They should receive more compensation if they use the funding to switch to lower emitting alternatives. A new Commission on Fuel Poverty should be created to look at the best way of implementing compensation and provide recommendations within six months."