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Carbon Emissions

Volume 764: debated on Thursday 16 July 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on carbon emissions in the United Kingdom of the decision not to proceed with either the zero-carbon allowable solutions carbon offsetting scheme for homes or the 2016 increase in on-site energy efficiency standards.

My Lords, estimates of the carbon savings from the zero-carbon homes policy in England have been included in the updated emissions projections published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. In the next update of those projections the Government will be taking into account the decision not to proceed with the zero-carbon allowable solutions carbon offsetting scheme for homes or the 2016 increase in on-site energy efficiency standards.

But is the Minister not aware of the deep concern in response to this decision about the impact not only on climate change but on the construction industry? The UK Green Building Council called it,

“short-sighted, unnecessary, retrograde and damaging to the house building industry which has invested heavily in delivering energy efficient homes”.

Does he recall that his noble friend the Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon told this House in November:

“I assure noble Lords that the Government will strengthen standards and deliver zero-carbon homes from 2016. That is and remains a clear commitment on which we will be held accountable if we do not deliver”.—[Official Report, 5/11/14; col. 1709.]?

How will the Minister hold his noble friend to account for this failure to deliver?

I understand that the noble Lord is exercised about this but research has shown that the zero-carbon standard would have placed a significant regulatory burden on housebuilders and developers. These changes will give rise to the challenge of building more homes, including new starter homes. The carbon offsetting element—the so-called “allowable solutions”—would count as a tax on developers and would be of no benefit to the homebuyer, so we are giving the industry some breathing space.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government’s claim to be the greenest Government ever has, to coin a phrase, gone up in smoke? If not, what is the basis on which he could rebut that charge?

We have a very strong record to play upon. According to the Carbon Plan, published in 2011, improvements to the current building stock present an opportunity to save up to 75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. DECC’s latest projection shows that less than 5 million tonnes of CO2 would have been saved during the fourth carbon budget period through these schemes.

My Lords, I have asked this question before but perhaps I may try again. Why can it not be made mandatory that all new buildings have things such as photovoltaic and/or solar panels built into them?

There is a balance to be struck in ensuring that houses are affordable and that builders are given some leeway to build homes. I should remind the House that one of the key manifesto pledges was to build more homes, and particularly more affordable homes.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the senior scientists who have been working on carbon capture and storage for many years have themselves concluded that this is not a viable way to deal with global warming? Will the Government therefore consider ceasing investing in carbon capture and storage and divert those resources into effective and sustainable energy sources?

The noble Baroness has a point to the extent that there have been some concerns that you could seal a house too much, and research into that is currently going on. That is perhaps part of the reason why it is right not just to plough ahead with schemes without thinking through them, and we are therefore taking this pause, which is the right thing to do.

My Lords, the Minister said that this is a tax on the building industry, but is it not a fuel poverty issue? If a development goes ahead with affordable housing which is less carbon efficient and therefore costs a great deal more in fuel bills, is not the developer making a greater profit and do not those on the lower end of the social scale, in terms of their ability to pay for the fuel, have to pay over the longer term a great deal more in their energy bills?

I draw the noble Lord’s attention to our record over the last five years in making buildings more efficient. Homes and non-domestic buildings built to the latest building regulation requirements are already very energy efficient, so that plays into the affordable homes argument.

Would my noble friend explain to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that they are talking about emissions arising from domestic activity and domestic energy production, while, through our colossal imports into this country, our emissions from consumption are rising very fast? They have risen enormously since 1990. If one is concerned about combating global climate change, the changes we are talking about today make very little difference to our contribution, while they probably help a number of would-be homeowners very considerably.

In taking a holistic view my noble friend makes a good point. Under the UK’s Climate Change Act we are committed to cutting overall emissions by 80% by 2050. This extends the argument beyond housing. Carbon budgets provide the framework to put us on a cost-effective pathway to meeting our legally binding 2050 target.

Another manifesto commitment that will effectively increase the amount of carbon is the Government’s commitment to phase out onshore windmills. We can debate why that should be but the proposed planning system will effectively phase them out. Is the Minister aware that it will also reduce the number of jobs in the industry? Is he aware that a company called Mabey in Chepstow announced its closure last week, with the loss of 125 jobs, as a direct result of the fact that no more masts will be manufactured for windmills?

I do not know about the examples that the noble Lord mentioned, but in relation to windmills, or wind farms, decarbonisation must work for the local communities where infrastructure is built. We remain focused on getting the best deals for bill payers, to make these schemes work better.