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Climate change is big and scary but there are things we can all do, as James Parker discusses

The real question to ask about climate change is not whether it’s a problem or how bad it is, but what are you, and the company you work for going to do about it?

Following the successfully headline-grabbing Extinction Rebellion protests in April, and  campaigning Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg’s MP-lambasting visit to the UK, there’s a danger than many of us will return back to obsessing about Brexit, forgetting the bigger picture looming behind everything.

Homeowners, and particularly those with some ‘disposable income,’ are where the change can really start to happen.

We need to be first in pushing major national initiatives to remedy the damage before it’s too late

James Parker James Parker Editor of Housebuilder & Developer

Established technologies

With buildings making up around half of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, major inroads need to be made to tackle emissions now, and this can be via well-established technologies for lowering carbon footprint of new homes, such as electricity-powered air source or ground source heat pumps.

However, where is the national endeavour to raise awareness and make it happen?

The Government’s watchdog the Climate Change Commission has urged it to make net zero emissions a legal commitment for 2050, which will mean we honour what we promised in Paris. The CCC reckons the increase in cost will only mean a 1-2 per cent chunk of GDP per year, but has also said that the Government needs to take much tougher policy approach.

This could of course be allied to messaging that tells homeowners clearly how much they’ll save on bills, and a proper, policed retrofit programme – allied with working closely alongside housebuilders to bring solutions to new developments.

The CCC is calling for “vigour” from the Government, as homes (particularly retrofit) have a long way to go. In February, the CCC reported that numbers of residential loft, cavity and solid wall insulations were way below the Government’s own targets. Only ‘low carbon heat’ was exceeding the target, but for some reason that excluded heat pump installations which were only just above half of the level the Government had hoped to reach.

Green Deal failure

With our previous Green Deal having been an abject failure thanks to the efforts of unscrupulous cowboy firms selling shoddy retrofits to unwitting customers, the terms ‘Green’ and ‘Deal’ used together might have a stigma that’s very hard-to-shake.

However a new wave of momentum to genuinely make strides in halting emissions (and come even somewhere close to our Paris goals), is hitting these shores, from a US initiative called the Green New Deal. It’s an idea that directly references Roosevelt’s post-Wall Street Crash rebuilding initiative of the 1930s.

The proposed Green New Deal, which is being adopted by active and enlightened emissions warriors already across the world, is that governments will penalise individuals and companies for their greenhouses gases. This will be via ‘carbon taxes’ or a system of tradable emission permits, and is aimed to enforce a society-level sense of responsibility.

The momentum is moving in the right direction, but with awareness of the benefits and potential of technologies such as heat pumps reportedly still low among consumers, it’s depressing that there cannot be more central efforts to disseminate this, and back up the climate change rhetoric.

The need for mass market

Of course moving it beyond the ‘keen greens’ to the B&Q shopping masses means not only making it affordable, but also perhaps making it attractive to housebuilders so that they will look at pre-empting demand.

None of this is easy, but surely that’s no excuse for inaction given the size of the problem.

 The Renewable Heat Incentive still exists, but where are the TV ads? Perhaps the BBC could be ‘encouraged’ to spend less on trailers for its own shows and contribute to something demonstrably worthwhile like informing consumers how they can help save the planet?

‘House’ building!

And last but not least, when will the Government get a grip of the housebuilding industry, and make green technologies mandatory rather than a ‘nice to have’? Yes they might not all be appropriate or needed, but surely consideration of them needs to be made compulsory to offset construction’s huge contribution to the problem.

Not to mention that gas supplies are still at the whims of a fairly small power base.

The Government needs to urgently look at how the UK can make the practical moves to maintain a healthy planet, via changing construction, and how customers are engaged. Let’s not forget the UK has a disproportionate role in global pollution over the centuries, having industrialised first. This is one reason why we need to be first in pushing major national initiatives to remedy the damage before it’s too late.

The Government is likely going to need a mix of carrot and stick, but maybe they should be applied equally, if we are to follow Greta Thunberg’s lead. Let’s not make the same mistake as we did with the Code for Sustainable Homes and Zero Carbon Homes, and just let this momentum lapse. I have to believe this is too important for that to only be a possibility.

James Parker is editor of Housebuilder and Developer