The need for far greater energy efficiency policy across non-residential building stock has been exposed across three new reports from the government’s climate change watchdog, which has claimed the UK is on course to reach just half of its emissions targets by 2030.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has released a series of studies covering areas of policy development needed to reduce emissions in heat, meet the Paris agreement obligations and respond to the UK’s exit from the European Union.
All three reports point to a policy gap in energy efficiency for commercial properties, particularly SMEs which are “poorly addressed by existing policies”.
The CCC’s ‘Next steps for UK heat policy’ report claims energy performance in business is assessed “infrequently and often not discussed at senior management or board level, and so has little strategic value or ‘salience’”.
Considering the impact energy costs can have on companies, particularly those in energy intensive industries where bills can range between 5-25% of turnover, the report states: “Investing in energy efficiency is therefore a strategic priority.”
In a second report – ‘Meeting Carbon Budgets – Implications of Brexit for UK climate policy’ – the CCC claims that policy agreed at EU level covers less than half of the 22% reduction needed in emissions from the building sector by 2030 to meet the requirements of the carbon budget for that period.
Similarly, EU policy would only deliver 82% of the reduction required by 2030 in the industry sector, and therefore calls for the UK to go further than just transpose these policies into UK legislation but develop new approaches to incentivise energy efficiency.
The same view is taken in the CCC’s third report, ‘UK climate action following the Paris Agreement’, which states new policy is required to improve energy efficiency of non-residential buildings, including a consolidated reporting mechanism for commercial and public buildings, new emissions reduction targets for the public estate and new policies to support SMEs in England.
“Energy efficiency plays a critical role in both 2°C and 1.5°C scenarios. It is crucial to 1.5°C scenarios, most of which project energy use per unit of GDP decreasing at a faster pace than historically observed. This decrease comes from dedicated energy efficiency policies as well as substantial climate-policy-induced demand reductions,” it concludes.
The committee has therefore called for a joined-up approach to energy efficiency with low-carbon heat, also deemed an area of little policy development, which works across the building stock and focuses on real-world performance where possible.
Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC, said: “Action is needed now to ensure the UK can deliver its climate obligations at least cost. For too long, government policy has neglected the UK’s ageing homes and heating systems. It is time to remedy that failure with policies that are simple, stable, and designed to work.”
The findings of the committee are the latest in a growing list of criticisms against government energy efficiency policy following the cancellation of zero carbon homes standards, the scrapping of the Green Deal, delayed business energy efficiency tax policy and the smart power call for evidence.
In addition, the government's Emission Reduction Plan, or Carbon Plan, is scheduled to be released this year. However climate change minister Nick Hurd has hinted that the this may also be delayed to 2017, saying: “It's more important to get this right than to rush something out that doesn't hit the target."
Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive of UK-GBC, said: “These reports from the Committee on Climate Change present a bleak picture of where we are with our current emissions reduction policies. They highlight an urgent need for us to do more to plug our current policy gap.
“We are calling for strong representation of the building sector within the government’s upcoming Emissions Reduction Plan and Industrial Strategy. With half of building emissions reductions policies currently dependent on the EU, these will be crucial to providing long term certainty against the backdrop of Brexit.”
However, some have questioned if the findings of the CCC go far enough, particularly on heat which the UK is failing to decarbonise in time for 2020’s EU-led targets.
Tim Rotheray, director of the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE), said: “We welcome the Committee’s urgent call to action for a long term strategy to decarbonise heat and its recognition of the importance of bringing forward new heat infrastructure.
“Yet a real question remains over the decarbonisation of industrial heat energy use, which accounts for over 20% of all sectors’ energy use in the UK, and which went unaddressed in today's report.
“As the government consider its industrial strategy, technologies such as combined heat and power that help to drive efficiency while improving the competitiveness of British industry, should become the backbone of any plan.”
The CCC’s findings follow a report from the Association for the Conservation of Energy (ACE) released last week which estimated a net benefit of meeting the 5th Carbon Budget in buildings from measures including energy cost savings and emissions savings to be in excess of £45 billion.
Its flagship policy suggestion was for the government to legislate to ensure all properties achieve a minimum standard of energy efficiency when sold to meet legally binding climate targets. The CCC offer a similar policy suggestion of a “well-timed offer” to households and SMEs aligned to ‘trigger points’.
This would include house moves and major renovations, when low-carbon options can be installed with less additional disruption and at lower cost.