Outgoing PM, Theresa May may have enshrined the net zero target into law as part of her legacy but it is the new leader of the Conservative party, Boris Johnson and his new Chancellor, Sajid Javid who will need to ensure we can deliver and deliver fast. They will already be left in no doubt from campaign groups such as the EEIG and through their own trusted advisors, such as the Committee on Climate Change, that energy efficiency is a no-regrets but necessary infrastructure investment choice. However, we will need a Chancellor (plus the DCLG (Jenrick), BEIS (Leadsom) and Health (Hancock) Secretaries) with the right mindset to tackle this crucial area and to realise that serious investment in this area has the potential to unlock substantial, long-term economic returns. Is Sajid the right person to understand and invest in this vision?
Whilst many of us have been distracted with the leadership race, Brexit or other political shenanigans (how many weeks do we have before a general election?), the issue of energy efficiency has been barely off the radar (even with climate change protestors blocking the new PM’s short trip to Buckingham Palace). In early July, we saw the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) blueprint for setting out how the UK could viably build a net zero greenhouse gas emission economy by 2050, stressing “that widespread deployment of energy efficiency measures across the UK’s building stock will be a key plank of any credible and cost-effective strategy to meeting net zero”.
This was swiftly followed by the business and energy select committee’s report “Energy efficiency: building towards net zero” which will most certainly send the new Bojo team a strong message that the Government is “off-track to meet its targets” and “major policy gaps still exist” and “If the Government will not back energy efficiency, one of the cheapest ways to reduce our carbon emissions, it will not bode well for the other, costlier actions required for decarbonisation.”
Why is this report from MPs any different, you may ask? This cross-party report is punchy, it is pithy and it is persuasive. It emphasises that whilst the Government has set ambitious energy efficiency targets, they do not yet know how to deliver against those targets. In fact, both public investment in energy efficiency and the rate of installations has plummeted and the report highlights that the government remains surprisingly resistant to the fact that there are significant returns on energy efficiency investment and “is presiding over a failing policy.”
This group of cross-party MPs strongly spell out that the evidence is overwhelming on how crucial energy efficiency investment is for meeting climate obligations, eradicating fuel poverty and lowering bills. The evidence and research is not new, it is not radical, it is well-known. The report sends a clear warning that energy efficiency needs to be addressed now if the UK is to have any chance of meeting its fourth and fifth carbon budgets, the net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Policy is failing and the far-reaching Government inaction needs to be boosted by a new decisive, ambitious but deliverable plan, based upon policies that have proved successful elsewhere.
The cross-party BEIS select committee MPS sum up by saying that there is consensus among Government advisory bodies, and almost all external stakeholders, including industry, on what needs to be done. They call for the Government to confirm “energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority, underpinned by sufficient and sustained central Government funding; placing local authorities in the driving seat to deliver fuel poverty schemes; employing a comprehensive package of incentives and finance mechanisms for the ‘able to pay’ market; implementing robust regulation; and the provision of local energy advice and sufficient quality assurance standards.”
Let’s also remember the Conservative Environment Network manifesto (Conservatives who support conservation and decarbonisation) which eerily reflects the messages of the EEIG and makes a commitment to ” Environmental Net Gain – a new legal requirement for all development, leaving the environment in a better state. Upgrade old homes – £1bn a year to upgrade our leaky housing stock and end £9.5bn a year in wasted energy.” As well as “Future-proof new homes – carbon neutral homes resilient to flooding and other weather disasters.”. This was also supported by an environmental declaration backed by 41 Conservative MPs some of which are now in the Cabinet, including new Environment Secretary and former MEP, Theresa Villiers.
What’s not to like! Sounds familiar messaging? The possibilities and opportunities are endless! Perhaps we may see the climate change portfolio move to a more natural home in DEFRA or even a supra climate change department crossing BEIS, DEFRA and MHCLG. However the real problem lies in the lack of political will and whilst we will welcome in a new PM, a new Cabinet and new Ministers, we must remain focused on ensuring that this is the only u-turn amongst the twists and turns of the coming days and weeks. There is no more time for Government procrastination. Now the Ministerial blockers have gone, let’s get on with the delivering a Buildings Energy Infrastructure Programme. Perhaps Bojo can deliver back our mojo with a willing Chancellor!
Sarah Kostense-Winterton is Executive Director of MIMA, the Mineral Wool Insulation Manufacturers Association and co-founder and Chair of the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group (EEIG).
MIMA represents four of the leading mineral wool insulation companies in the UK – Isover Saint-Gobain, Knauf Insulation, ROCKWOOL and Superglass, the industry trade body for non-combustible, breathable glass and stone wool insulation.