The Retrofit Challenge for Housing
The October 2018 IPCC Report on the Impacts of Global Warming of 1.5°C warns that global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C.
The report identifies that pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. These imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options.
The UK has about 28 million homes and these contribute about 40% of UK emissions. What would a rapid and far-reaching transition look like in the residential sector? It would mean that between now and 2050 we would improve the energy efficiency of about 1 million homes per year. If progress follows an S-shaped curve, as it always has with energy improvements in our homes, the middle years would see perhaps 3 million homes upgraded every year.
Can we do this? Of course we can. When the UK moved from Town Gas to North Sea Gas in the 1960s and 1970s, we rebuilt the national gas distribution infrastructure and converted an average of 1 million homes per year for fourteen years. No computers were used, no-one ‘liked’ it on Facebook, and it did not trend on Twitter. The government of the day made a decision that was in the national interest and the Gas Board got on with it, at a cost in today’s money of over £15 billion.
How do we move quickly now to retrofit solutions to tackle rising emissions from our homes? We cannot wait until we have perfect information. That day will never come.
The challenge is a ‘wicked’ one, which means that:
- It has no clear solution
- It is socially complex
- It does not sit conveniently within the responsibility of any one organisation
- It involves changing behaviours, by organisations as well as by people
- Different people have different versions of what the challenge is
- The challenge has many interdependencies and is multi-causal
- Addressing the challenge will lead to unforeseen consequences
To tackle it we need:
- To engage stakeholders and citizens effectively in understanding the problem and in identifying possible solutions
- To tolerate uncertainty and accept the need for a long-term focus
- To make the best use of the knowledge, experience, systems and organisations we have
- To recognise that the benefits of acting intelligently will be profound and widespread
To begin, we need to focus our attention on owner-occupiers and private landlords, who between them own more than 80% of all homes; and we need to understand residential energy efficiency at a systems level. No homeowner will act until he or she has the capability, the opportunity and the motivation to act. We need to ask ourselves:
- What people and organisations are able to increase a homeowner’s capability, opportunity or motivation to act to upgrade their property?
- How should these people and organisations behave so that homeowners choose to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and find it easy to do so well?
Helping to ensure a sustainable future for succeeding generations has never had a greater moral, economic, social and environmental imperative. Now is the time to act. As citizens, this is our responsibility.
A panel of industry-leading panelists will discuss and debate how ‘deep’ we must go to deliver measurable health benefits and achieve the energy reduction targets and commitments of the Climate Change Act.
The panel invites you to contribute and share suggestions to help identify three key recommendations as the most universally applicable to take forward to impact change.
The Retrofit Challenge for Housing session will take place at 1.30pm on 06 March 2019 in the ecobuild Conference Arena at Futurebuild. Register for your place here.