Climate change is seen as the biggest challenge of our time, and increasing public pressure is forcing politicians to take the issue seriously. This week alone we saw countless pledges made by parties in their attempt to save the planet, including Labour’s promise to plant two billion trees by 2040, the Tories pledge of £9.2bn towards energy efficiency in homes, hospitals, and schools, and the SNP’s plan to ring-fence oil and gas revenues to pay for climate change measures.
This increased pressure has led to the first climate change television leadership debate aired on Channel 4 this week. Neither Boris Johnson nor Nigel Farage turned up, and were instead replaced with melting ice sculptures representing ‘the emergency on planet earth.’ The leaders of the remaining five main parties were present to face questions about how they plan to tackle the climate change emergency.
Housing, of course, plays a huge part in climate change. In Wales, our 1.4 million homes are responsible for 27% of all energy consumed, and 15% of all demand-side greenhouse gas emissions. The Welsh Government has accepted in principle all of the recommendations made in the Better Homes, Better World, Better Wales report, including the target to achieve net zero carbon by 2050, and for the housing stock to be retrofitted to beyond SAP90 to achieve EPC Band A rating. (Read our briefing here)
The leaders present at the climate change TV debate recognised that housing contributed to this crisis and put forward their views on how to create positive environmental change. Improving the energy efficiency of homes was certainly the policy favoured by all of the parties. Jeremy Corbyn said the Labour Party would create a Green Industrial Revolution, where all of the UK’s 27 million homes would be upgraded to the highest energy-efficiency standards. Social homes and low income households would receive improvements for free while others would be offered an interest free loan.
Jo Swinson also set out the Liberal Democrats intention to ensure all low income homes would receive energy efficiency improvements to cut fuel bills and reduce fuel poverty. We know how to build zero carbon homes in the UK, she said, and a target is needed to ensure all new build homes are zero carbon.
Sian Berry, leader of the Green Party, pledged the most ambitious and expensive housing policy with £100bn a year promised for a green new deal, £38bn of which would be invested in homes where insulation and heat pumps would be part of a deep retrofitting programme.
Nicola Sturgeon was the only leader who could present what her party had already been doing. In Scotland, the SNP have invested in the Home Energy Efficiency Programme – the delivery vehicle for tackling fuel poverty and improving the energy efficiency of homes. She stated that decarbonisation of the grid, a power in the hands of the UK government, is now crucial, and there needs to be a just transition to ensure the poorest are not left behind.
If Wales could be a leading industrial nation in the 18th century, there is no reason why it cannot be the leader of a renewable revolution, said Adam Price leader of Plaid Cymru. He wants to see £5bn invested in Wales on the energy efficiency of homes with renewable sources of energy powering the grid.
Fiona Harvey last week reported in the Guardian that the climate emergency has risen to the top of the UK’s election agenda in a way that would have been ‘unthinkable’ five years ago. Tom Burke, the chairman of environmental think tank E3G said that the move marked a permanent change in British politics, as younger voters in particular were ‘energised’ over the environment.
This week on the final day of applications, we saw a record number of people registering to vote with 659,666 people applying –a spike which some are attributing to a Tweet by rapper Stormzy. 67% of those registering since October were people under the age of 34.
Amidst Brexit and the NHS, in the end, it could be the Environment Wot Won It.