Effective plans for our future

Tim Martel argues for policies we need to see from the government for a convincing response to climate change

Emissions from power have fallen fast... but all other sectors are flat
Emissions from power have fallen fast… but all other sectors are flat – CCC 2018 Progress Report to Parliament [PDF]

After this summer, 72% of British adults are now ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ concerned about the impacts of climate change. Is the UK on track to a sustainable future with its actions? Only in the power sector. All other sectors have remained about the same.

The past 10 years have been full of suggestions of small changes people could do, but unfortunately few take them up. What if the UK got serious about progress? We’re up against major polluters that spend 10 times as much on climate lobbying as green groups.

We need to be doing the things that evidence shows actually work such as the list below. We need to have plans. Effects need to be substantial and measureable. The Clean Growth Plan 2017 wasn’t backed up by the numbers.

For sure this is not easy, but Government does have the resources, actions (below) are straightforward and supported by evidence. These are the sort of items that should be in a credible Government plan.

1) Put a higher price on CO2

Lord Stern did a lot of work with IAM’s following the Stern Review which was commissioned by the government and published in 2006. A lot of suggested policies are tested through economic modelling, there are special economic models, ‘IAMs’ for climate change. In the models voluntary action isn’t enough when there are ‘externalities’, i.e. it’s free to pollute, polluters don’t pay for the damage they cause to others. He established 6 market failures which led to this in his book “Why are we waiting”. Stern also worked with Deitz and showed that when realistic damages are taken into account the social cost of carbon is $200/tonne CO2 rising to $1000 a tonne.

Wildfires on Saddleworth Moor
Wildfires on Saddleworth Moor

Even Shell Oil (yes the oil company) estimates the only scenario that might meet the Paris agreement puts a cost on Carbon that rises to $200 per tonne CO2.

Does this mean higher bills? No, not necessarily, interestingly enough, the Government recently consulted with a leading economist, Dr Dieter Helm, to find out why our UK energy bills were so high. He concluded that UK consumers are paying too much and the cost could be reduced because there are too complicated, too many legacy costs, policies and regulations and he recommended they could be cheaper while still applying clear market signal of a universal carbon price across all sectors.

Therefore the first thing we must do is put a sensible price on CO2. It’s not free to pollute, it actually costs our nation and others a lot of money. Stern found that it’s much cheaper to act than to do nothing in 2008 because of the wide and diverse impacts – that’s another article on its own. 

2) Regulate

Regulations can be set to save home owners money, for example the EU’s Energy Performance Buildings Directive recast for example is specifically geared around minimum lifecycle cost (see graph).

Regulation is effective. The only sector that has reduced in emissions over the last 10 years is the energy sector, largely due to legislation around coal power stations. Regulation was one of three pillars in Germany’s energy saving programme which has been much more successful than ours. Another pillar was effective communication.

Relying on a market approach – i.e. deregulation – has been catastrophic in New Zealand which relaxed its regulation relating to housing, allowing people to ‘self-certify’. This has led to a huge crisis, with poorly constructed timber housing that has become mouldy and unhealthy to live in. Avoidable costs are now estimated to be $11.3 billion.

As Tom Jarman says, an informed client that sees the value and acts without regulation would be preferable. But we live in a culture where most people do the minimum to meet Building Regs and very few go beyond, so regulation is what’s needed.

3) Evaluation of projects should be by lifetime costing

It’s much more sensible to include the total cost during the life of the item than the capital cost, lifetime costs should include the co-benefits – there are many of these, some for the owner, some for the nation. Those to the owner include (for housing) a warmer house, increased house value, a more comfortable and stylish house. Those to the nation include new jobs, reduction in trade deficit (because less foreign gas imported), and reduced infrastructure costs.

4) New houses should be Passivhaus

Passivhaus cuts 80-90% of the energy of existing housing. If we are to reduce carbon emissions by 80% relative to 1990 then this would seem sensible. It does this by focusing on the fabric of the building itself which has a much longer life than renewables. Nor does it rely on wood stoves; half the peak in air pollution in London is from wood stoves, according to an article in the New Scientist (‘Wood-burners: London air pollution is just tip of the iceberg’ – 4 Feb 2017). This can also be applied to new schools and has been very successful. Passivhaus schools had the lowest running costs of all in a nationwide study. Passivhaus also solves another problem we have, that houses do not meet the intended performance of the design, mainly because the SAP models are too simplified – there is a performance gap. Passivhaus is not only higher performing, it actually meets that target.  Passivhaus is becoming much larger scale recently:

41 homes: Lancaster Cohousing

68 homes: Saffron Acres, Leicester

72 homes: Primrose Park, Plymouth

105 homes: Goldsmith Street, Norwich

360 homes: Agar Grove, Camden, London

5) Make energy efficiency a National Infrastructure Priority

Improvements to housing reduces the need to massively increase the National Infrastructure and has extra co-benefits – most importantly a warmer house. In contrast the alternative of bigger/more pylons is no benefit at all beyond the energy delivery. Make energy efficiency a National Infrastructure Priority is supported by:

  1. a) The National Infrastructure Commission “Improving the insulation of buildings makes sense both now and in a low carbon future.”
  2. b) UK Green Building Council
  3. c) Energy UK, the voice of the Energy Industry
  4. d) Labour Party
  5. e) Green Party

6) Remove subsidies on meat

It sounds like a small thing but the meat and dairy industry is huge, and most of the farmland around us is grass to meet the requirements of this industry. Five meat & dairy companies are responsible for more emissions than major oil companies. A reduction in meat consumption would also improve our nation’s health, this was found in the Centre for Alternative Energy “Zero Carbon Britain” report.

7) Border tax for countries not working to Paris Agreement (i.e. USA)

Those countries not abiding by the Paris agreement are meeting lower standards in order to cut costs. This is not in the interests of the international community and a border tax on products from that country could help address this, as suggested in an article in Nature magazine which proposes a border tax to tackle “free riders”.

Finally, if we do all the things listed above will they work?  That would need an organisation like BEIS to find out, but it’s interesting to arrange typical lists of barriers (right column below) alongside the actions that should address them (left column below).  All the common barriers to action are addressed. All these items above can be grouped into the category of “A) Stimulating Demand”. Full consideration would also include two other sections of action: “B) National Rollout plans”, and “C) Communication”.

(1) Tighter Regulations
(2) Higher Carbon Price
(3) New build is PH 
  • Consumer split incentives 
  • Consumer highly resistant to change in behaviour  
  • Consumer is risk averse, limited capital, may be unwilling to pay for energy audits
  • Consumer prefers new kitchens, bathrooms, central heating, repairs to retrofit, the social gains are more obvious
  • Legislation needed to generate demand.  
  • Low or under-priced energy. Low energy prices undermine incentives to save energy
  • Sensitivity to price of energy, inflation and interest rate
(4) Make Energy Efficiency a National Infrastructure Priority
  • Incremental change lock-in.

Here is an extract from the IPCC 2013 document:
“Buildings and their energy supply infrastructure are some of the longest‐lived components of the economy. Buildings constructed and retrofitted in the next few years to decades will determine emissions for many decades, without major opportunities for further change. The sector also favours incremental change, traditionally low levels of innovation and high inertia.
“When a major retrofit or new construction takes place, state‐of‐the‐art performance levels are required to avoid locking in sub‐optimal outcomes. This implies that a major reduction in building energy use will not take place without strong policy efforts, and particularly the use of building codes that require adoption of the ambitious performance levels set out in Section 9.3 as soon as possible”.

(5) Lifetime Costing
  • Current market has misinformation and uses misleading simplified techniques
  • Consumer has limited awareness and information on costs, benefits.
  • Rewards not immediately clear to people in daily household activities.


Tim MartelTim Martel BSc BA MCIAT CEPHD
Passivhaus Designer ◦ Chartered Architectural Technologist ◦ Retrofit Coordinator ◦ timmartel3@gmail.com

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