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Report Outline: Re-Energising the Green Agenda

‘Re-energising the green agenda’ is a report produced by the Commission of Inquiry into Sustainable Construction and the Green Deal. This page provides a brief outline of that report.

Re-energising the green agenda

Meeting ambitious CO2 emission targets (80% on 1990 baseline by 2050) will rely heavily on energy efficiency improvements and ‘greening the built environment’. However, there is an important disconnect with targets and policy implementation – meeting targets needs more than grand strategies.

The existing housing stock is the weakest link between regulation and energy reduction, with many of the UK’s 26 million homes needing to be upgraded. Whilst there has been significant progress in achieving easy wins, work on ‘hard-to-treat’ areas has barely begun. What is more, the recession has slowed the pace of sustainability in commercial stock and housing.

Current legislation is failing, and although the premise of the Green Deal (GD) should be applauded, it is currently inadequate and is in need of review. The primary issue with the GD is the lack of financial incentive to home owners – despite recent increases the cost of energy is still too low for GD to be cost effective. Other key issues with the GD include its complexity and the effective exclusion of social housing landlords (who could play a key role in galvanising the GD and building confidence).

There are misperceptions and uncertainties in the sector that also need to be addressed. Currently, householders are linking energy efficiency works to perceived issues with selling properties rather than increases in potential selling price/property value.

Lessons need to be learnt and changes need to be made. Seven key recommendations are made:

  1. The Government is not short of targets and pledges, but clear shorter term targets are needed for the construction sector, to monitor and report on progress.
  2. Priorities need to be decided upon and defined. The Government has to decide whether it values lower CO2 emissions, and is therefore prepared to invest more in green electricity, or lower fuel bills, which would tip the balance in favour of significantly reducing energy consumption and, in turn, to invest in that.
  3. A transparent and authoritative organisation is needed to coordinate incentives, audit reports and recommend policy change. The Green Construction Board is recommended for this, although it would need to be reconfigured and given ‘more teeth’.
  4. An Existing Homes Hub (akin to the Zero Carbon Homes Hub) would foster engagement within industry on sustainability issues and provide a neutral space for the industry and DECC to collaborate on and deal with non-Green Deal retrofit issues.
  5. The GD needs to be reviewed. The Government’s argument is that GD raises awareness in energy efficiency and can result in improvements not necessarily financed by the GD. It is the belief of the report that now is the time to review and simplify the GD. More local area approaches are needed and the £20m extra funding for local authorities to take a street by street approach is welcomed.
  6. It is essential to consult on a new GD for registered social landlords, who could deliver much needed scale to the initiative and galvanise it at a local level potentially offering a service to non-residents.
  7. Retrofit needs to become more financially attractive, through for instance lowering the GD interest rate and underwriting the financing or introducing other incentives.

The report also comments that making energy use more apparent to consumers will help them value low energy homes. Beside financially incentivising work, ‘stick’ approaches (e.g. outlawing the rental of properties below certain standards) have acted as a powerful tool, but their impact could also be negative if they results in properties simply becoming ‘unrentable’.

The report advocates a commitment to achieve 98% of easy to treat and 95% of hard to treat by 2050. But it also explains, the problem does not stop at retrofitting existing homes and that it is also important to consider the lifecycle of the home with embodied energy of materials contributing up to 40% of the lifetime energy use of a new building. New builds need to be improved, and the performance gap between design intent and as built emissions (perception energy efficiency is only user determined rather than construction embedded) needs to be tackled.

 A full version of the report is available here.