1. The United Kingdom contains more than 26 million
homes ranging from the largest Elizabethan mansion to the smallest
purpose-built flat. Collectively, those homes emitted 41.7 million
tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) in 2004, representing
more than a quarter of the UK's emissions (152 MtCO2)
of the main greenhouse gas driving climate change.
Over the next 12 years, the Government believes that 3 million
more units will need to be added to the UK housing stock, and
considerable effort has been made to ensure that those additional
homes are as carbon-neutral as modern building methods, technologies
and government regulation can make them. The question animating
this Report, therefore, is what can be done to minimise and reduce
the carbon footprint of the already existing housing stock, particularly
given that an estimated 23 to 25 million of the homes already
standing will still be lived in half a century from now. To put
it another way, two thirds of the homes likely to exist in 2050
2. There is clear
scientific and political consensus that climate change is the
greatest long-term challenge facing the world. The United Kingdom
is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.
A reduction of that level in emissions from the housing stock
would equate to about 24 million fewer tonnes of carbon, leaving
emissions at about 17 million tonnes per annum.
The Government has accepted that individual sectorshousing,
other buildings, construction and transport, for examplemay
contribute differential proportions to that total reduction, and
that "it may not be cost-effective to seek to achieve the
full 60% from existing homes".
It is clear, however, that a significant contribution to the
overall reduction is required from housing, and some campaigners,
particularly Brenda Boardman of Oxford University's Environmental
Change Institute, have argued that the target should be as high
as an 80 per cent reduction from housing.
3. Whatever the level set, substantial gains can
and need to be made from actions to reduce the emissions that
result from our heating, our lighting, our water use and the way
we manage our homes. Familiar technologies already exist that
offer quick and comparatively low-cost improvementscavity
wall and loft insulation, better-insulated windows, less draughty
doors. Newer technologieswind generation, community heat
and power systems, solar poweroffer longer-term and as
yet less certain returns, and questions arise of whether the markets
exist to disseminate them cost-effectively and widely, and whether
a skills base exists for their efficient and appropriate installation.
Actions are also required from the individuals who live in those
26 million homes, from landlords and homeowners, from local and
central government, and from builders, engineers, installation
experts and planning departments. Finally, those actions depend
in turn on existing, new and developing information about what
can and should be done to reduce our carbon emissions.
4. The average newly built home in the UK emits 0.86
tonnes of carbon a year; the average household living in an existing
home is responsible for about twice as much, at 1.6 tonnes, three
quarters of which arises from space and water heating and from
lighting. The initial
prognosis for a reduction as substantial as 60 per cent does not,
on the face of it, look good: energy consumption per household
in the UK has remained more or less stable since 1990, and the
rising number of households (the Government predicts 223,000 more
households in England each year to 2026) might be expected to
bring about an increase.
Overall stability has, however, been something of an achievement
in itself in the face of a 40 per cent growth in the demand for
energy servicesparticularly for appliances. It has also
occurred in spite of rising consumer expectations and desire for
comfort, particularly warmth: the Construction Products Association
notes a 50 per cent increase in average home temperatures in the
past four decades:
In 1970, the average UK house was heated to an average
of 12°C, whilst by 2003 this had risen to 18°C.
Standing still for nearly four decades has, then,
required considerable effort, and the Energy Saving Trust estimates
that domestic energy efficiency measures taken since 1970 have
halved what UK domestic energy demand would otherwise be.
Stability is no longer enough, though. The
amount of energy we use to heat and light our homes now needs
to decline, and sharply, if carbon emission reductions from the
housing stock are to contribute towards the 60 per cent reduction
in emissions by 2050 to which the United Kingdom is committed.