The good, the bad and the opportunities for 2016

January 5, 2016

As we start 2016 year, following is a quick recap of the good, the bad and the opportunities from 2015.

The Good…

Global carbon emissions are expected to show a decline in 2015 – Wow, where did that come from? Carbon emissions growth slowed in 2014 and then, based on data to October 2015, emissions are expected to decline 0.6% in 2015. The slower growth in emissions was attributed largely to a drop in coal consumption in China (Figure 1). The continuing growth in renewable and below-average growth in global demand for oil and natural gas also contribute. What is exciting about this is that it came when the world was experiencing growth. This breaking of the relationship between economic growth and carbon emissions mirrors similar findings in North America and other locations. It bodes well for the future.

change in carbon emissions
Figure 1. Change in CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel use and industry since 2011

Campaigns get intelligent and aligned – A wide number of campaigns are pushing jointly on similar issues and gaining real traction with the public. Friends of the Earth, WWF, Avaaz, .350 and others all inspired mass support for action on climate change. Other groups campaign for closure of coal stations or divestment from investment in fossil fuels. 

Some are making a key point very clear. The Guardian “Keep it in the Ground” campaign has amassed over 300,000 supporters. It focuses on the simple calculation that the world has extracted five times the amount of fossil fuels that we can burn. If we are to limit emissions to 2o C, as the world has committed to, we cannot burn 80% of the fossil fuels already held above ground in reserves. And no more extraction should take place. Such a simple important message

The uptake of renewables continues – Bangladesh aims to expand solar power to every home by 2021. Morocco is building five big new solar plants by 2020 at a cost and become a major energy exporter to Europe. Tanzania plans to give a million homes access to solar pv by the start of 2018. In the UK more than 10% of electricity supplied to the national grid is regularly from renewable sources.

Importantly uptake in the US is also strong with solar the fastest-growing source of power and rooftop installations up 70% year on year. Hillary Clinton has pledged half a billion panels across the country should she win the Presidency.

Measurement- The backlash against VW is prolonged and strong. Their sales are down over 15% this year. The US, South Korea and others are lining up the fines that they can make on the company showing that both Governments and the public want companies to perform against targets and show integrity. Trust is once again shown to be a business’s key asset. We have seen uptake in accreditation of the environmental performance of organisations double in uptake in the last two years.  Interest is growing.

First international agreement on carbon emissions reductions – Climate change negotiations are exceptionally difficult. No other policy area attempts to negotiate with 196 countries of the world. It is exceptionally heartening that agreement in Paris was reached, especially the aspiration to go further and limit climate change to 1.5oC.

It does not go far enough – delivery has yet to be agreed and shipping and aviation emissions (5% of global emissions) aren’t included – BUT it certainly provides a good starting point.  

The Bad…

Excess winter deaths – ONS data showed that 43,000 people died in the UK last year due to excess winter deaths. The UK has cheap fuel bills relative to Europe, the reason for these deaths is the poor state of our homes, a national embarrassment.

Retrofit funding slashed again – In 2012 the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) was over £1.3bn per year for England. The Comprehensive Spending Review announced that the £640m per year would be shared with all the UK and that it would be spread over an additional year, leaving retrofit funding at 35% of what it once was.

Flooding – The real and present impact of climate change has been felt again in people’s homes and businesses. Investment priorities still lag well behind what we know of future impacts.

Zero Carbon Homes delayed – The Government withdrew the Zero Carbon Homes commitment, something which had stood the test of time and previously won all-Party agreement and support from house builders. The ambition is not lost, however, as EU commitments to “nearly zero” homes by 2020 remain.

The Opportunity…

Empower landlords to revolutionise housing – Social landlords have lead the way on energy efficiency. With a small change to the rent rules they could do far more. Here’s an example. Good Housing spends thousands making Mr Smith’s home more energy efficient.

Victorian house retrofit
Figure 2. Victorian house retrofit

Mr Smith’s annual energy bill drops by £300.Good housing is currently not able to recoup any of these benefits. Rental income is limited to 80% of local average rents and it is not possible to differentiate service charges for energy efficient properties.

What say Good Housing could recoup £80 a year through higher rent (25% of the savings)? What would that look like? Mr Smith would still be £220 a year better off. Good Housing has more money to make improvements to other homes.

Imagine the change this would generate. Housing and comfort would be improved for many. Landlords manage millions of homes. Housing and comfort could improve for many. Improvements on this scale could help reduce retrofit costs,  helping to galvanise improvements across all housing.

Make a simple switch – Government currently provide support of £6bn per year to oil and gas companies. Switching just £1bn each year to retrofit our poor performing homes will have multiple benefits for Government.

  • If used for improving homes it could
    • Improve 200,000 of the worst performing homes in the UK (the 8m solid wall homes in the leak twice as much as cavity wall homes)
    • Adapt homes in flood prone areas so they are less likely to be flooded or recover more quickly.
    • Generate over 130,000 jobs
    • Dramatically reduce fuel poverty
  • Put action behind words that Government supports action on climate change.
  • Be a double whammy for climate change. Firstly, carbon emissions would drop from homes made more energy efficient. Secondly, removing subsidies for fossil fuels reduces the incentive for further extraction and burning.

What a powerful way to start 2016, to show leadership after the Paris Summit, to illustrate to the UK that this Government is serious about taking action to reduce the likelihood and impacts of flooding. Go for it.

Arianna Sdei