We are in a climate emergency. Yet, all we get from politicians of all sides is meaningless and contradictory slogans, broken pledges, and inaction.
First published in March 2021.
This mixing of two different concepts does nothing to improve understanding and even less to help anyone.
The UK has a little over 3 million households in fuel poverty, as measured by the Low Income Low Energy Efficiency (LILEE) metric. This number is slowly (far too slowly) coming down, with funding from the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme and other programmes.
Carbon emissions is not the primary driver of the fuel poverty strategy. There is, shamefully, no national strategy for decarbonising homes. The Liberal Democrats, like all parties, know this. Like all parties, they also fail to grasp, and speak about, the reality of decarbonising.
Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics in England, 2021In 2019, there were an estimated 13.4 per cent of households (3.18 million) in fuel poverty in England under the LILEE metric, down from 15.0 per cent in 2018 (3.52 million).
There are roughly 15 million UK homes over 60 years old and a further 10 million younger than this. The variety and quality of these is vast, as is the range of fuels used to heat and power them. There are two ways to decarbonise them. Both need to happen.
First, the electricity grid. If this can be improved to finally deliver consistent 100% renewable energy then everything that uses that electricity will effectively be carbon neutral. There are big problems to overcome here.
One huge problem for household energy is the enormous number of homes that rely on fossil fuels, typically gas, to provide heat and hot water. 100% renewable electricity won’t alter those emissions unless we also change the energy system in each home.
The more we do this, the greater the demand for electricity and the more renewable electricity the grid needs to provide. This has to come from somewhere. So, we also need to include much more local zero carbon energy supply. This has further implications for the grid.
The second way to achieve mass decarbonisation of homes is with physical improvements to each home. This also must happen and is even more complex. I won’t go into all of the issues to be overcome but, just for fun, here are a few things to consider:
- Who will do all the work to physically upgrade homes, provide more insulation, ventilation, and zero carbon heating systems such as heat pumps?
- Where will these contractors come from?
- Do they have all the necessary skills?
- Will we get it right?
- What about cooling?
- Flood resistance?
If we are serious about decarbonisation of, at least, the worst 15 million homes in the UK, this will take huge commitment for a long time.
- Is the political consensus there to keep going?
- If contractors are doing all this, who is available to build the new homes we still need?
- Is everyone in the UK fully aware of what is required so we can make a start immediately?
- Will people object?
- What if they don’t want this work doing?
I could go on but, of course, you get the point.
This is why it is such a disaster that politicians don’t talk about this stuff. All we get is meaningless and contradictory slogans, broken pledges, and inaction. When ministers talk about “energy to power x number of homes”, does anyone ask what this means? Is it enough to do what is required? (Hint: No, of course not.)
Right now the UK government is preparing to host the COP26 climate summit in November. Boris Johnson, of course, will try to bluff it out and has no interest in the mundane reality of details, work and delivering any substantial action on the climate crisis.
The utterly terrifying reality of the crisis is laid out in this stunning Twitter thread by Professor Julia Steinberger. Read it and understand why the failure of our politicians and leaders to even talk seriously about (let alone act on) the crisis is criminal.
You will notice that I haven’t mentioned money. The action described above is urgently needed and will cost many billions of pounds, but if finding the money is not what governments are for, then what is the point of them? We are, after all, in a climate emergency.
If anyone from the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party, the Conservatives, the Green Party, or anyone else from mainstream politics wants to respond, I am sure we would all love to hear from you.
- Low Income Low Energy Efficiency (LILEE) | Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
▫ Mr MT, Environmentalist in North Wales.
GET THEM INVOLVED:
[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 31 March 2021 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Shutterstock/Tero Vesalainen. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)