Sizing up Zero Carbon

With election time approaching there will be much concern about size. Size of the deficit. Size of the tax hike/cut. Size of the turnout. Size of the swing required in marginal seats. Size of a cow. OK. Perhaps not the last one. I just threw that in there because I quite liked the song and it talks about blowing up problems out of proportion which is quite fitting when it comes to Zero Carbon.

The proportions of the Zero Carbon policy are vast. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the setting of Zero Carbon policy has been such a saga that it could come with a foreword by Tolkien. The size question has arisen because the idea of reducing carbon to zero is quite an attractive one. It looks good, sounds good and helps to save the planet. All great if, as a Government, you are trying to show how green you are and just how much you care about climate change targets.

However, this great idea is only great, it seems, when you build lots of houses. Build them on small enough sites (recently announced as small = 10 houses or less) and you can ignore the requirement to reduce the carbon from new build housing to zero. You can cut short that journey, or actually, in effect, not bother to set foot down that particular path at all.  A bit like Frodo popping down the pub rather than bothering with all that quest lark and sticking The One Ring in the post to Mount Doom.  Somebody else can worry about the consequences if the postman gets eaten by an Orc on the way up the drive.

This obsession with size all seems a bit odd, as surely lots of little sites add up to one big site and therefore doesn’t that just leave one big chunk of carbon emissions left unabated? The sceptics would say that the carbon abatement in question called ‘Allowable Solutions’ is just smoke and mirrors anyway. Carbon offsetting by another name. After all, the idea of a truly Zero Carbon House where all energy (both regulated energy and that used by white goods) is taken into account and dealt with on-site, has long since been abandoned. This bit the dust when the Coalition Government came into power. The Zero Carbon idea however is perhaps one that is too headline-grabbing to abandon completely so it continues on as a shadow of its former self.

So is the idea of Zero Carbon attractive to us, the general population, or more importantly in the current climate, us, the voters? Do we really care if a new home is Zero Carbon? For most, given the shortage of supply, I suggest that any new home would be welcome and for Politicians, it seems to be a battle of who can claim to be able to build the most houses, rather than who can do it with the lowest CO2 emissions. Understandable, as you may end up with nearly zero votes if you focus just on the Zero Carbon.

However, as we are concerning ourselves with size and animals, there is a big elephant in the room – the scale of emissions from existing housing stock. This is an area not addressed by the Zero Carbon policy. You cannot hit carbon emission targets by building new homes alone. Over 27% of the UK’s CO2 emissions come from the residential sector and most of those already exist as we add less than 1% a year with new build housing. So, are there any votes in the area of existing houses for our trusty prospective MP’s?

Surely you don’t need to be a wise old owl of a politician to appreciate the appeal to the voting population of encouraging home energy efficiency?

The benefits are many and varied as a strong energy efficiency policy can:
  • Reduce fuel poverty
  • Lower household fuel bills
  • Make homes more comfortable places in which to live
  • Improve EPC ratings and hence resale values

If all that wasn’t enough, on an economic level it makes sense too, as every £1 spent in the construction generates £2.84 of total economic activity. So rather than looking purely at new build, perhaps a wider focus on all areas of carbon emissions would give a better idea of the size of the problem?

Whatever animals are more fitting to convey the scale of the Zero Carbon issue in new build housing – herds of cows, rooms full of elephants, or an occasional piece of lion, for many the focus should be elsewhere. Energy efficiency is key to reducing CO2 and at the moment it is a policy area best described as something of a pig’s ear.

Let’s hope that Energy Efficiency does not get overlooked in any horse trading that happens after the Election. That would be very rash and saddle us all with a missed opportunity to really cut carbon emissions down to size.

Zero Carbon Statistics from Celotex

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