Great. Just when we thought the doom-mongers might be wrong. This week, clouds started to gather once more on two potentially very stormy weather fronts: the climate and Covid.
First, ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26, now just over a week away, the government unveiled its Heat and Buildings and Net Zero strategies, eliciting groans all round of ‘Nowhere near enough’ and ‘Who’s going to pay that for a heat pump?’
It was disappointing enough that there was barely a mention of embodied carbon. Lord Callanan said only weeks ago at Property Week’s Climate Crisis Challenge Spotlight event that it was something the government was “certainly looking at”. Yet it was conspicuous by its absence from the Heat and Buildings Strategy and was only referenced in the Net Zero Strategy as something the government might consider.
“What we would like to see is a commitment,” says UKGBC chief executive Julie Hirigoyen. She also slams the government’s plan to phase out gas boilers from 2035 as “not ambitious enough” and she is right: if the built environment is to become net zero by 2050, it isn’t.
Giving people £5,000 grants is simply not going to cut it when heat pumps cost anything between £6,000 to £18,000 to install, certainly not with lower-income households. More importantly, the grants are only set to benefit a paltry 30,000 households, which as Hirigoyen notes is “a drop in the ocean in the context of the 900,000 annual installations we need to see by 2028”. There is also the small matter of the acute shortage of heat pump installers to consider.
More worryingly, the strategy fails to address priorities that UKGBC regards as “non-negotiable” to the achievement of net zero, such as a wide-scale domestic retrofit programme, there is no mention of a successor to the failed Green Homes Grant scheme and, worst of all, there are no truly meaningful incentives.
‘Too much hot air, not enough heat strategy’ in my view. To add insult to injury, the government has rejected the changes made to the Environment Bill by the House of Lords. What does it all add up to? A total cop-out ahead of COP26, that’s what.
The new big C
M&S famously launched “Plan A, because there is no Plan B” back in 2007. There may be no Plan B for the climate (although call me a cynic, the government’s two new strategies look distinctly Plan B to me), but that is not the case with Covid. Yet despite what appears to be a perfectly reasonable Plan B, the government has resisted calls from NHS chiefs to implement it for now, arguing that it will keep “a very close eye on the situation”. Why?
Here at PW Towers, we are still required to wear masks when walking around the office and I still wear mine in crowded public spaces even when others are not wearing theirs. I’ll also happily do regular lateral flow tests (especially now we know they are more reliable than initially thought), carry a vaccine passport and work from home if necessary.
What’s the big deal? We don’t want a repeat of the delay and dither we saw at the start of the pandemic, or to stumble into a Plan C (as in crisis) scenario of full lockdowns and further unnecessary deaths. I don’t like my civil liberties being curtailed any more than the next person, but I’d rather that than people’s lives…