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Housebuilders should be ‘ashamed’ of failure to slash emissions

London pollution carbon emissions
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The carbon-cutting performance of the UK’s biggest housebuilders has been condemned by the government’s official climate change adviser

In its latest report, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warned that the UK would not meet its legally binding targets to avert climate change unless urgent action was taken to reduce emissions from houses and cars.

The report highlights how the country has seen a rapid reduction in emissions in the electricity sector since 2008 but points out that this masks a ‘marked failure’ to decarbonise in transport, agriculture and buildings.

In the buildings sector, emissions increased by 1 per cent in 2017, the second year in a row that the UK has seen a rise. 

In the report, the CCC said the government must ‘learn the lessons of the last decade’ if it is to meet emissions targets and that ’concrete policies’ must be introduced for the building sector.

Following the report’s release, the committee’s chair John Gummer – a former Conservative environment secretary who now sits in the House of Lords as Lord Deben – directly attacked the UK’s largest housebuilders for failing to implement energy efficiency standards.

He said: ‘The industry should be ashamed of itself that it is still producing homes that are cheating the people they sell to. If you don’t produce a properly insulated home, you put a burden on the purchaser and the next purchaser for the rest of time in terms of their energy bills.’

Speaking later on the BBC’s Today programme, he added: ‘Every one of the big housebuilders are selling a future of expensive energy because they do not make their homes properly environmentally friendly.’

The housebuilding industry immediately rejected Gummer’s accusation.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation said: ‘Lord Deben’s comments are ill-judged and are not borne out by the facts. Housebuilders have met every government environmental target such that new homes are considerably more energy efficient than existing homes, reducing carbon emissions and saving owners hundreds of pounds a year.’

Robin Nicholson, senior partner at Cullinan Studio, said the built environment’s impact on climate change has become ‘marginalised’ with the government’s focused on other issues such as the aftermath of the Grenfell fire and Brexit.

‘Our 2008 Climate Change Act was world-leading,’ he said, ‘but now the Climate Change Committee has yet again documented how poorly we have responded.

‘The brilliance of the Code for Sustainable Homes was that it set out a clear timetable to ramp up towards zero carbon homes in five defined steps and the industry responded. 

‘Its demise has let everybody off the hook, yet far too many new homes overheat. The pressure on housing numbers is at the expense of long-term energy reduction and tackling land speculation through taxation and regulation.’

Nicholson added that high VAT percentages for works to existing buildings meant there was ‘no incentive’ for upgrading the existing stock - the area where the biggest waste lies. 

Responding to the CCC’s report, the UK Green Building Council said the increase in building emissions was ‘worrying’ and the lack of concrete policies must be ‘urgently remedied’.

Julie Hirigoyen, UKGBC chief executive said: ’The CCC highlights how clear goals and well-designed policies have delivered huge emissions reductions in the power sector. The Government must now demonstrate equal determination to drive down emissions from buildings – the most cost-effective way of tackling climate change.’

The CCC report on the nation’s progress in tackling climate change comes in the wake of Parliament’s controversial decision to back a third runway at Heathrow Airport. 

The vote was reportedly scheduled days before the report’s publication because the report says that surging aviation emissions will destroy the chance of the UK meeting its carbon emission targets.

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