6. Buildings

Download a pdf version of the full report on how the government should address the Climate Emergency here.

Ensure all UK buildings are 
zero carbon

Making buildings more sustainable is probably one of the toughest sectors to deal with because they are so close to people’s everyday lives. Joined-up action between improving building efficiency and heat supply is essential and can only be done effectively at a local level as local authorities are best placed to find the most appropriate way to reduce energy needs and make the heat zero carbon.  In turn this means a step change in empowerment, funding and support for local authorities as they develop, gain consent and deliver projects.

UK buildings are generally draughty and leak a lot of energy. Efficiency has some of the greatest potential to improve people’s quality of life, through warmer homes and easing the costs of energy bills. Our existing housing stock requires considerable improvement, coupled with stopping building anything that will then need retrofitting in the next 25 years. Both new and old properties need proper inspection and enforcement of standards, which has historically been very weak.

The strategy for supplying green heat is more complex because we need to support the development, trials and cost-reduction of new technologies. We need to scale up known solutions (heat pumps for buildings off gas grid and district heating), trial at scale promising technologies (hydrogen and hybrid systems), and support research and development for new alternatives. District heating gives options in denser urban areas (e.g. geothermal heat). It is currently often deployed using gas, but will need to transition to other zero carbon fuels in the next two decades.

Overarching measures

• Establish a Delivery Agency for UK buildings to oversee, coordinate and support delivery of fully decarbonised building stock well before 2045

• The Delivery Agency should establish an inclusive, comprehensive process to involve and orient stakeholders as a national plan is developed, which identifies strategies for different locations and building types, as well as skills development focused on those whose existing skills in fossil fuel heating will be rendered redundant

• The Agency should act as a centralised compliance and enforcement body to ensure delivery against building efficiency standards in new-build but also projects in existing buildings such as enforcement of regulations in the rental sector. Construction below existing standards is already costing new home owners £70-£260 per year extra in fuel bills

• Mandate and support local authorities to produce local plans for delivery of zero carbon buildings

Maximise Energy Efficiency

• Match and go beyond EU Eco-design regulations on energy efficiency in electrical appliances – which has thus far arguably been the most effective policy for UK CO2 emissions cuts

• Introduce regulations for new homes to be equivalent to passivhaus standard, and commercial buildings to the same equivalent standard by 2025

• Introduce a regulation for net zero energy in new buildings by 2030 – including development of solar on all suitable new-build roofs

• Make energy efficiency in existing buildings an infrastructure priority and provide funding of £1.7 billion per year for delivery of Government’s existing target of EPC band C for all properties by 2035, ideally earlier. This money must focus on fuel poor and social housing in the first instance but then leverage private funds into the able to pay sector. A target should be introduced to deliver insulation in all suitable cavity walls, lofts and solid walls, funded from the £1.7bn/ year pot

• Fund additional innovation projects of around £300 million per year like the roll-out of Energiesprong to drive energy efficiency in existing houses and commercial buildings

Make building heating systems zero carbon by 2045

• Ban the use of fossil fuel heating, including gas boilers, in new homes from 2025, in line with the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation

• Set a date for the end of new installations of oil and LPG boilers in existing buildings in off-gas grid locations

• The Delivery Agency should initiate and oversee a large programme of ‘action research’ to determine the best way to decarbonise UK heating. Suitable processes must be established to learn and evolve solutions from trials, particularly given technological and behavioural/citizen changes and uncertainties

• Establish a programme of large scale trials for both low carbon electrical and hydrogen usage, and provide £3.5bn government investment in district heating over the next decade

• Place an obligation on gas distribution companies to progressively reduce to zero before 2045 the carbon content of the gas they supply

• Provide support for local authority experiments in local empowerment and governance to determine how street and area based solutions can be delivered with local consent

• Establish a new regulatory regime and investment framework for heat, to ensure fair distribution of costs for new infrastructure, and guarantee early adopters are not disincentivised. This could be done via taxation rather than regressively increasing consumer energy bills

• Ensure any bio-energy feedstocks for green gas/ anaerobic digestion are confined to genuine wastes