UK home insulation/ net-zero concept

MPs recommend ‘national mobilisation’ to reach net zero

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The Environmental Audit Committee has said it would take a “war effort” to improve energy-efficiency standards in homes across the UK and wean the country off fossil fuels.

In a recent report, a cross-party committee of MPs has asked for a “national mobilisation” that would improve home insulation and accelerate the transition towards net-zero.

The document has also called on ministers to set ambitious targets for rolling-out onshore wind and tidal energy, as well as recommending the government should set an end date for domestic oil and gas licensing.

“To reduce the UK’s demand on fossil fuels, we must stop consuming more than we need," said Philip Dunne MP, the committee chairman. “We must fix our leaky housing stock, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and wastes our constituents’ hard-earned cash: we must make homes warmer and retain heat for longer."

At the moment, the UK remains dependent on fossil fuels for 78 per cent of its energy needs – to heat homes, fuel vehicles and generate over a third of its electricity.

Britain is frequently described as having some of the oldest and least energy-efficient housing in Europe and government critics have long argued that insulation, one of the simplest ways of cutting both energy consumption and bills, was being ignored.

Moreover, almost a fifth of UK emissions come from buildings, according to the UK Climate Change Committee, an organisation that has accused the government of not investing enough money in tackling energy efficiency

To address the energy crisis, the government created a British Energy Security Strategy and announced a £1.5bn package to improve the energy efficiency of low-income households, as well as a promise of £6bn in future energy-efficiency funding. 

However, the committee has stated that these efforts might not be ambitious enough to meet the country's energy demand. 

“The government’s welcome new Energy Efficiency Taskforce can lead a national mobilisation to install energy-efficiency upgrades, which we would like to see achieve an initial target of a million homes a year and more than double this by the end of the decade,” Dunne added. 

The committee recommended that money raised from the windfall tax on oil and gas profits announced in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement should be directed towards this effort, with all homes rated at band D energy efficiency or below upgraded to band C in what it considered a "national priority".

“We recommend that the government launch a national ‘war effort’ push on energy saving and efficiency,” the report said.

The report went on to discuss the government's policies regarding renewable energy sources, and asked authorities to set stated ambitions for onshore wind and tidal energy in gigawatts of generating capacity as it had been done for other low-carbon technologies including solar, offshore wind and nuclear.

The MPs also recommended that the Treasury examine how a low-carbon investment allowance could be introduced for electricity producers paying the new temporary tax of 45 per cent, similar to the one that applies to oil and gas producers.

"Tackling the immediate energy security and affordability issues caused by the war in Ukraine does not entail abandoning climate ambitions or putting them on pause," it states. "During the net-zero transition, the UK must nevertheless continue to be able to access oil and gas to ensure that the country can continue to heat its homes, fuel its transport and generate a declining proportion of its power."

In order to "show its continued commitment to climate leadership", the report also asked the government to consult on setting a clear date for ending new oil and gas licensing rounds in the North Sea, which it said should fall "well before 2050".

“Bold action is needed now," Dunne added. "The last year, with Russia’s aggression in Europe choking energy supplies, has shown us just how vulnerable our over-reliance on imported fossil fuels can make us.

“The committee has today set out a number of clear recommendations to drive real change: I hope the government will act swiftly to implement them.”

In response, a government spokesperson said: “With Russia weaponising energy across Europe, it is vital we boost our homegrown energy supply.

“The government has committed £6.6bn this Parliament and a further £6bn to 2028 to make buildings more energy efficient. We have also launched a new energy-saving campaign, raising awareness of simple actions people can take to bring down the amount of energy needed to keep homes warm this winter.

“Our British Energy Security Strategy sets out our plan to supercharge our domestic renewable energy and nuclear capacity, as well as supporting our North Sea oil and gas industry as we transition to lower carbon energy.”

In the midst of this discussion over the UK's strategy to reach net-zero, UK government ministers have also been urged to halt “climate-wrecking” development plans for a new oil field in the North Sea.

The complaints follow the proposal submitted by Norwegian state-controlled company Equinor to begin production in Rosebank, located north-west of Shetland. The facility is thought to be twice the size of the controversial Cambo development and could produce almost 70,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak.

Although industry experts previously said the plans would boost energy security and the Scottish economy, the Scottish Greens have joined environmental groups in calling for the plans to be rejected, arguing it could hinder efforts to meet net-zero targets.

“Rosebank is a climate disaster waiting to happen," said Mark Ruskell, the party’s energy and environment spokesman. “We are already past the point when we should have been moving away from oil and gas, yet Westminster is doubling down on it."

Equinor has said a final investment decision could be made in 2023, with the first oil expected in late 2026.

The company stressed its commitment to net zero by 2050, but added that "while we still need oil and gas, we aim to develop and operate projects such as Rosebank with the lowest possible carbon footprint while bringing the maximum value to society in the shape of UK investment, local jobs and energy security”.

Mike Tholen, sustainability director of Offshore Energies UK, said the industry is committed to the transition to net zero but said gas and oil were essential to power the nation until then.

“New developments like Rosebank are replacing older and higher emission intensity resources that are decommissioning rapidly. It would become part of the network of oil and gas fields in the North Sea that will help keep our nation supplied with energy while we build a greener future,” he said. 

A UK government spokesperson said: “The UK is leading the world on climate change and our British Energy Security Strategy sets out our plan to supercharge our domestic renewable energy and nuclear capacity, as well as supporting our North Sea oil and gas industry as we transition to lower-carbon energy.

“No decision has yet been made regarding the proposed Rosebank field and development proposals for oil fields under existing licences are a matter for the regulators.”

In February 2021, an investigation revealed that North Sea oil and gas firms produce annual carbon emissions equivalent to a coal plant through flaring and venting activities. Since then, the NSTA has been encouraging firms to meet the targets agreed upon in the ‘North Sea Transition Deal’ and to lower gas waste.

The regulatory body said progress has been encouraging with overall emissions from North Sea oil and gas production activities down 21.5 per cent between 2018 and 2021.

In November, the NSTA issued more than 100 new oil and gas drilling licences to “boost” the UK’s energy sector, despite the UN’s warnings that any plans to expand fossil fuel projects over the next decade would be severely out of line with ambitions to cut greenhouse gas emissions and limit temperature rises to 1.5°C. 

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