Aerial view of typical UK town homes

Govt commitment to low carbon has waned, says report

A lack of urgency from government and the need for radical reform is why the UK has ‘lost its clear global leadership position on climate action’, according to a new report from the Climate Change Committee (CCC).

The CCC report Progress in reducing emissions: 2023 Report to Parliament says a lack of urgency is delaying the policy changes required to help the UK reach its net zero targets. CCC chairman Lord Deben says he is worried that the “commitment of government to act has waned”.

The report says that although the government has made a number of strong commitments, notably to install 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028, these must be ‘restated and moved as swiftly as possible towards delivery’.

It also notes the need for the UK to ensure it has the skills base needed to deliver on these commitments, and for government to overcome the uncertainty being caused by its planned 2026 decision on the role of hydrogen in heating.

When it comes to lowering emissions in buildings, the report said the government has stated its ambition to transform the way we heat buildings at scale in its Heat and Buildings Strategy, but most progress indicators are off track, including the number of trained retrofit assessors and heat pump installers.

The report comes as new figures show a weak uptake of the flagship Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) in its first year. Since the scheme opened in May 2022, 18,433 BUS vouchers have been issued, of which almost 12,000 have been approved and paid following the completion of the heat pump installation. But this falls way short of the 30,000 vouchers that the government hoped would be issued annually.

Government needs to go further
Most of the industry has agreed with the CCC findings and is urging the government to go further to support the switch from gas boilers to heat pumps and other low-carbon technologies.

The Energy Networks Association (ENA) described the report as a major wake-up call. Chief executive Lawrence Slade says: “The country is risking decision paralysis if deadlines and milestones slip. I was pleased the committee continues to recognise there’s no one solution to get us to the government’s net zero targets. We need government to provide greater certainty for investors and more speed to the creation of schemes that everyone agrees are needed.

“In particular, there’s a clear imperative for radical reform in planning policy so the government, regulators, local authorities and the energy sector can create a more straightforward and streamlined process for delivering vital projects and upgrades, such as grid infrastructure.”

Martyn Bridges, director of Technical Services at Worcester Bosch, says: “The wide gap between progress and ambition is exemplified in the government’s 600,000 target for installed heat pumps by 2028. It is currently at around 11 per cent of that, with less than five years to make up the remaining 89 per cent.

“The cost-of-living crisis means that for many UK households, their priority is their bottom line at the end of each month, as opposed to switching or upgrading appliances unless absolutely necessary. This, coupled with the significant increase in mortgage rates… are understandable reasons why… the public will be reluctant to borrow more money to make the switch to heat pumps and other greener heating solutions.”

The company’s CEO Carl Arntzen adds: “The government is definitely favouring just heat pumps alone, but we feel [there will be a transition to] heat pumps, hybrid heat pumps and converting the gas network over to hydrogen.”

Mike Thornton, chief executive at Energy Saving Trust, called the progress disappointing, noting the CCC’s conclusion that the likelihood of meeting the UK’s 2030 net zero goals is lower than it was 12 months ago.

He says: “Despite continued warnings and the proposal of clear policy recommendations, we must ask why the UK government isn’t acting with more urgency. When it comes to improving our housing stock, little progress has been made to enable homes to reach EPC [Band] C in the next 12 years and the roll-out of low carbon heat pumps is much too slow.

“The government has missed opportunities to do more to support households and businesses in both the short and long term, while driving decarbonisation and increasing energy security.

“We now need to see rapid progress on energy security, energy efficiency and carbon reduction, both to address the current acute energy crisis and protect our planet for the future.”

Include hybrids
The government should add subsidies to cover hybrid heat pumps as a transition step towards this technology, says Henk van den Berg, strategic business manager of heating and renewables at Daikin UK. “This will further stimulate demand and, in turn, incentivise gas boiler manufacturers to accelerate their diversification into heat pumps,” he says.

“The new proposals to fine companies who miss quotas for heat pump production and installation are a welcome first step, as is the plan to use this revenue to incentivise heat pump companies to ramp up production.

“Nothing is more important than driving the nation’s transition away from gas boilers, creating green jobs and a green supply chain in the UK.”

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