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29 October 2021

Clarissa Corbisiero: What are our hopes for COP?

Clarissa Corbisiero: What are our hopes for COP?

As world leaders gather for COP26 in Glasgow, Clarissa Corbisiero, our Director of Public and External Affairs / Deputy Chief Executive sets out our hopes for the next two weeks.

America's climate envoy John Kerry said recently that the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow next week is the "last best hope for the world to get its act together”. So what does us collectively ‘getting our act together’ look like and what does it mean for Wales and Welsh housing?

First, it means having a clear plan of action. While there are some big unknowns that might make action feel too risky, taking no action isn’t an option. The Welsh government has just set out its own vision through it’s Net Zero Plan. It demonstrates how housing is central to its decarbonisation ambitions and we look forward to the Welsh government’s budget where we hope funding will be put in place to ensure vision becomes reality.

Secondly, that plan must be fit to address the challenging realities we face. Tinkering around the edges won’t do when you consider that in Wales, we have some of the oldest and least thermally efficient housing stock in the UK and Europe. Over a third of Welsh homes were built before 1919 and homes in Wales are responsible for 27% of all energy consumed and 15% of all demand-side greenhouse gas emissions. Despite big improvements, 155,000 households still face fuel poverty in Wales.

Thirdly, getting our collective act together must mean that the plan is grounded in reality and is deliverable. That means a clear route map, timescales and long term funding commitments to sit alongside it. We know that decarbonising social housing in Wales will require significant investment, in the region of between £4- 5bn. However, this is an investment in jobs, health and the public purse alongside the impact on our climate. The Welsh government must consider the whole investment impact when setting its budget now and over the longer term. We need a long term, funded plan, if we are to succeed together.

Getting our acts together means we must not miss the opportunity to use this investment to support our people and places by creating local jobs and training opportunities. CITB modelling suggests that an additional 12,000 full-time equivalent workers will be needed in Wales by 2028. These workers are needed primarily to deliver improvements to existing buildings to reduce energy demand, representing an increase of around 11% on the current size of the workforce in Wales. This is clearly a huge undertaking but is essential if we are to meet our shared ambitions to decarbonise Welsh housing. Associations are playing their part by spending locally to support SMEs and create good quality employment locally. Housing Associations already invest 85p in every pound in Wales and want that to increase to 90p in every pound by the end of the Senedd. Decarbonising existing homes will play a big role in increasing that proportion of local spend, if we get it right.

Housing Associations are already building on their know-how and connections to get started: 26 social housing providers are involved in the Welsh government’s Optimised Retrofit Programme which will see more than 1,700 homes across Wales made more energy efficient. The pathfinder programme uses a combination of building fabric improvements, low and zero-carbon technologies, and intelligent operational controls, to plan how to take each home to its lowest achievable carbon footprint.

But all of this will struggle to succeed if tenants are not involved from the outset. Work by the Blaenau Gwent climate change assembly shows what can be done. The assembly is made up of people living in Blaenau Gwent, and it has made recommendations to help shape decarbonisation plans from community level, right through to housing associations, business, local and national government. One such recommendation was to ‘Ensure that all new build properties are built using the latest sustainable technologies, employing local builders and providing a variety of accommodation types appropriate for all including homeless/single occupancy up to large families.’ It’s ideas like this, that are sourced locally, with local buy-in, that have the best chance of standing the test of time.

So with all this, what is my wish for COP26 and beyond?

Well, it’s simple: A clear and deliverable vision, backed up with a realistic plan to implement it. While housing associations are up for the challenge and are already showing what they can do to reduce carbon across their businesses, they are - like the rest of the world - looking to world leaders to take decisive action next week.