Greenhouse gas cuts disguise slow progress on cleaning up emissions from UK homes, campaigners warn

‘All the backslapping from government on very modest improvements shows that they have not yet grasped the scale and speed of change needed’

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Thursday 28 March 2019 16:44
Labour declares national ‘environment and climate emergency’

Efforts to cut emissions from British homes have stalled – even as official figures reveal overall greenhouse gas levels dropped by three per cent last year.

Campaigners have warned against complacency in the face of climate disaster, as the steady drop in emissions over the past six years appears to be levelling off.

Immense progress has been made in cutting pollution from the energy sector, in large part due to a shift away from coal-fired power towards renewable sources.

But with housing and transport lagging, experts say there is an urgent need for policies to clean these sectors up.

The government announced carbon emissions are now at their lowest level since Queen Victoria was on the throne, and heralded it as evidence of successful “clean growth” policies.

Energy minister Claire Perry said: “We can be proud that we continue to lead the way in reducing emissions while growing our economy.

“More than half of our electricity comes from low carbon sources thanks to more than £52bn of government support for renewable projects in the UK since 2010 – all part of our modern industrial strategy.”

But Mike Childs, head of research at Friends of the Earth, said authorities must not ignore the fact the energy transition is slowing.

“All the backslapping from government on very modest improvements shows that they have not yet grasped the scale and speed of change needed,” he said.

Housing has made slow progress towards decarbonisation, largely due to reliance on natural gas for heating.

Last year there was a three per cent rise in residential emissions – a trend that can partly be attributed to cold weather during the first few months, as well as slow progress cleaning up the sector.

While chancellor Philip Hammond recently pledged to ban gas boilers in new homes from 2025, experts say to achieve significant cuts ministers must also make drastic changes to existing buildings.

“The government’s block on gas boilers in new homes is very welcome, but the climate emergency demands rapid retrofitting of our existing stock – the leakiest, draftiest housing in Europe,” said Morten Thaysen, climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK.

Among the changes suggested are a shift towards electric heating systems, induction hobs and solar panels in homes.

“But the most vital technology is also the simplest, cheapest and oldest – insulation,” said Mr Thaysen.

“Successive governments’ failure to pick this lowest of low-hanging fruit, a low-tech economic miracle that cuts carbon and energy bills while creating jobs in every part of the nation, is an enduring mystery which urgently needs to be solved.”

The overall drop in emissions was largely the result of a seven per cent reduction in pollution from energy supplies, with transport – now the highest-polluting sector – dropping three per cent.

While overall greenhouse gas emissions have fallen 44 per cent below the UK’s 1990 baseline, transport pollution has hardly been cut at all across the same period.

Government advisers on the Committee on Climate Change (an independent non-departmental public body) have previously warned that if drastic policies are not introduced, the UK will miss its legally binding targets for emissions cuts.

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