Has Sunak Slung Net Zero Under A Train?

Rishi Sunak has taken direct responsibility to scale back the UK’s efforts on achieving Net Zero 2050 – claiming that the country can still get there in time without ‘unnecessarily’ burdening homeowners.

However, most observers from the conventional building and architectural disciplines and those with a ‘greener’ leaning are decrying Sunak’s moves as disastrous sacrilege.

First of all Sunak will scrap policies to force landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their properties while ‘only’ encouraging households to do so where they can.

Set an exemption to the phase out of fossil fuel boilers, including gas, in 2035, so that households who will most struggle to make the switch to heat pumps or other low-carbon alternatives won’t have to do so.

Delay the ban on installing oil and LPG boilers and new coal heating, for off-gas-grid homes to 2035, instead of phasing them out from 2026.

Raise the Boiler Upgrade Grant by 50% to £7,500 to help households who want to replace their gas boilers with a low-carbon alternative such as a heat pump.


Gang of four

Just as Sunak was preparing to announce his measures, four members of the GGF got to his political adviser, Ameet Jogia, to discuss the role of glazing in reducing the nation’s carbon emissions.

John Agnew, group MD at the GGF, said shortly after: “Despite 86% of homes already having double glazing (leading the government to believe most of the remaining 14% will replace them without the incentive of a grant), 70% of windows installed since 2002 were C rated and so don’t meet the building standards relevant today. We presented a document that proves glazing can play a huge role in the drive for net zero and thus should be included in an government-backed home improvement incentive schemes.”


Killing investment

The UK Green Building Council has criticised Sunak and his fellow Conservatives for bringing about confusion and instability that will kill investment in green building products as funders will shy away from initiatives that may be scuppered by the latest announcement and the fear of further Tory backtracking on commitments.

Simon McWhirter, UKGBC’s deputy chief executive said: “The anger and frustration at this latest policy U-turn has reverberated across industry. Delaying green policies just means they’ll have to be implemented much faster, later, pushing up the cost for everyone – householders and businesses alike. The Prime Minister’s change in approach will also have a chilling effect on investment and skills training across green industries as they’re faced with yet another pull on the policy handbrake, just as our members and wider business were scaling up their pro-green activities across the economy.


Best to insulate

McWhirter continued: “To really tackle this problem, the best way to bring down costs for households is to insulate homes, yet the Prime Minister pulled the plug on measures to ensure landlords upgrade the draughty homes of renters – the group most affected by fuel poverty.

“Apart from an increase in the heat pump grant, no other measures were announced to incentivise and help households to insulate and make the transition from fossil fuel heating. We’re awaiting the long-overdue national strategy to upgrade all of our homes and buildings. But all we’ve had is a further erosion of commitment and clarity from government.”


Not just the UKGBC that is up in arms

A number of large property market players have similarly responded to the Prime Minister’s announcements, demonstrating the strong appetite for robust net zero policy amongst the UK’s business community.

Kaela Fenn-Smith, MD, sustainability & ESG consultancy, CBRE UK and Ireland, said: “I want to encourage the Prime Minister not to row back on all the hard work so many of us have invested in moving the UK towards a safer, secure, sustainable future.

”With the business community coming together like never before to drive climate action, we need clarity and certainty.

”Amidst a cost-of-living crisis that’s left millions struggling, we urgently need to recognise that protecting the environment doesn’t need to come at the expense of hard-working families.”


Emma Hoskyn, UK Head of Sustainability at JLL, said:

The announcements on the government’s net zero position will be disappointing to many businesses that, like JLL, are advocating for ambitious climate action, such as through alignment with the UN Race to Zero.

”It is through robust net zero policies and a stable landscape that the real estate sector, from investors to occupiers, can have confidence in and capitalise on, the opportunities that a rapid transition to net zero can provide. However, rolling back on net zero commitments will destabilise investment into green skills, sustainable technology and energy efficient homes.”


Tor Burrows, group sustainability director at Grosvenor Estates said:

”Diluting the UK’s commitment to net zero is not the way to build our economy, create jobs or address climate change. Businesses desperately need clarity and stability to help them plan how they will invest in green practices, tech and skills. Without this we risk losing out on crucial investment which will ease the cost of living and increase the country’s global reputation and competitiveness.”


James Hardy, UK director, sustainability, Turner & Townsend said:

”Our industry, like many others, has been scaling up at pace to meet the government’s previously ambitious commitments around electric vehicles, energy efficiency and gas boiler phase-outs. As these contribute to the delivery of UK’s 2050 statutory target, they aren’t a nice to have – they represent an absolute requirement if we are to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

“In addition, the government’s recent offshore wind auction that failed to attract any bids – an industry in which UK is world leader – only deepens concerns for the UK’s net-zero aspirations.

“The roll-out of retrofit for homes and workplaces, EV charging networks and clean energy solutions are highly complex and must not be compromised by short-term political gain which could derail the years of long-term planning, delivery and progress that we are already working towards.”


Robin Peters, CEO of home energy efficiency platform Snugg, said:

”Pushing back the phasing-out of fossil-fuel boilers will likely discourage people from taking up the offer of a more generous grant now. Increasing the grants for heat pumps is certainly good news, however £7,500 will still fall short of the full cost of installation for many households.

“People living in older houses, in particular, will likely need additional insultation, double glazing, if not already installed and new radiators if the ones they have are too small. This can often exceed £15,000 – double the new grant amount.”


Becky Lane, CEO, Furbnow said:

“The policy changes announced are completely wrong for the UK and the planet. We shouldn’t be removing the commitments we’ve made and delaying by a decade the change we need now.

“This roll-back will mean that the preparations made by incumbents and new entrants in the net zero transition will be undermined and the potential for economic growth and new jobs in the green sector will be significantly impacted.”


Chris Hardman, Founder, PropEco said:

“While it is true that many green building upgrades can be costly, this will never change as long as an uncertain and unsupportive regulatory environment hinders innovation. The impacts of climate change can’t simply be postponed and fortunately many households and organisations recognise that delaying efforts to boost building efficiency and resilience will only prove more costly in the long run.”


Not just houses

Sunak also rolled-back on banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by five years, stating that this will enable families to wait to take advantage of falling prices over the coming decade if they wish to – his rationale being that car buyers are moving to electric voluntarily at a pace never expected.

He also took a swipe at some other policy ‘ideas’ that would: require people to share cars, eat less meat and dairy, be taxed to discourage their flying or have seven bins to hit recycling targets. “Removing worrying proposals that would interfere in the way people live their lives,” he said.


Picture: As Rishi Sunak throws HS2 under a train, many people think he has thrown Net Zero under a train too.


Article written by Brian Shillibeer
04th October 2023


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