The Scotsman

In­side En­vi­ron­ment

Zero-car­bon homes pledge brings triple ben­e­fits, writes Dr Richard Dixon

- Climate Change · Ecology · Scottish Government · Friends of the Earth

Last week’s Pro­gramme for Gov­ern­ment has lots of good words about cre­at­ing a greener Scot­land, meet­ing our cli­mate com­mit­ments and de­liv­er­ing green jobs. One of the big­gest and ear­li­est com­mit­ments in the doc­u­ment is to a big ex­pan­sion of the work to in­su­late build­ings and switch heat­ing sys­tems to low car­bon. In her speech, the First Min­is­ter said that in 20 years heat­ing our homes will no longer con­trib­ute to cli­mate change emis­sions.

The spe­cific com­mit­ment is that £1.6 bil­lion would go into mak­ing peo­ple’s homes other build­ings more en­ergy ef­fi­cient and change heat­ing sys­tems over the next five years. This is ef­fec­tively dou­bling the cur­rent level of ex­pen­di­ture in this area cou­pled with a vi­sion of zero-car­bon homes by 2040.

Note how­ever that this is a com­mit­ment for the next Par­lia­ment, more an elec­tion prom­ise than a plan to start spend­ing to­mor­row. None­the­less, this is an ex­cel­lent place to put re­cov­ery money be­cause im­prov­ing peo­ple’s homes cre­ates jobs, im­proves lives and re­duces cli­mate emis­sions.

Fuel poverty – the choice low-in­come house­holds have to make be­tween heat and other house­hold es­sen­tials, in­clud­ing food – af­fects a quar­ter of Scot­tish house­holds. Many chil­dren are liv­ing in homes which are cold and of­ten damp, to the detri­ment of their phys­i­cal and men­tal health, and their per­for­mance at school. In­su­lat­ing their homes and im­prov­ing their heat­ing sys­tems are the sure ways to get peo­ple out of fuel poverty.

Around 15 per cent of Scot­land’s car­bon emis­sions come from us­ing fos­sil fu­els in the home, most of this from us­ing gas boil­ers for heat­ing and mak­ing hot wa­ter. The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has al­ready com­mit­ted to ban gas boil­ers from be­ing in­stalled in new homes from 2024 and a wide - spread pro­gramme to re­place ex­ist­ing boil­ers would be make a big dent in our cli­mate emis­sions.

As em­ploy­ment de­clines in the oil and gas in­dus­try, a pro­gramme of retrofitti­ng peo­ple’s homes will cre­ate good qual­ity, tech­ni­cal jobs, help­ing peo­ple move from the high-car­bon side of the en­ergy in­dus­try to the low-car­bon side, as part of a Just Tran­si­tion to a low-car­bon econ­omy. Re­cent work for the STUC sug­gested the kind of in­vest­ment pro - posed in the Pro­gramme for Gov­ern­ment could cre­ate 60,000 jobs over the next decade.

Scot­land’s hous­ing stock turns over only rel­a­tively slowly, so 80 per cent of cur­rent homes are ex­pected to still be with us in 2050. Some­thing which will help drive im­prove­ments are new reg­u­la­tions due soon which mean that land­lords will no longer be able to rent out the most in­ef­fi­cient homes, forc­ing prop­er­ties to be brought up to a de­cent con­di­tion.

Peo­ple wor­ried for some years about the ‘re­bound ef­fect’. If peo­ple save money on heat­ing their homes they might do one of two neg­a­tive things – turn the heat­ing up or spend the sav­ings on high-car­bon ac­tiv­i­ties like a hol­i­day abroad.

On the first of th­ese, if a fam­ily who have been liv­ing in a cold, damp home can now af­ford to heat their home prop­erly, that’s clearly a good thing, and a de­cent retro­fit job will mean they are still us­ing less en­ergy and spend­ing less money to gain a mas­sive im­prove­ment in the qual­ity of their lives.

On the sec­ond, re­search in the west of Scot­land found that peo­ple who saved a bit on their fuel bills were much more likely to spend a bit more in the lo­cal shops than blow it all on a fort­night in Benidorm.

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has made the right choice in fo­cus­ing on en­ergy use in homes, an area where we can quickly cre­ate new jobs, im­prove peo­ple’s lives and tackle cli­mate change.

Dr Richard Dixon is Di­rec­tor of Friends of the Earth Scot­land

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