Resolution Foundation

The latest climate warning further highlights gaps in our decarbonising plans

IPCC reports seldom bring good news, but the latest assessment finds that the crucial marker of a 1.5C temperature increase on pre-industrial times could be with us in just two decades

The latest summary of global climate science, compiled over years by hundreds of researchers, brings yet another stark warning on how the world is not decarbonising fast enough. 

IPCC reports seldom bring good news, but the latest assessment finds that the crucial marker of a 1.5C temperature increase on pre-industrial times could be with us in just two decades.

Every year and every tonne of greenhouse gas emitted beyond then will see further warming, until global emissions reach net zero.  

As the host of COP26, the conference tasked with making sure the ambition set in Paris becomes reality, there are few places where this pressure is felt more than in the UK.

It isn’t stretching the truth to say that the eyes of the world are trained on us, keen to see how we make good on our climate targets. 

Despite a good record to-date, with national carbon emissions down nearly 50 per cent inside three decades, the focus of cutting carbon in the UK has largely been in the power sector, rather than spread across society.

The next big challenge, one that will define the multi-decadal transition to climate neutrality – is cleaning up how we heat our homes. 

Responsible for around one-fifth of national CO2 emissions, the UK’s homes are currently without widespread policies to move from gas to heat pumps, or to limit the energy that pours out through badly constructed or badly insulated houses.  

Climate-proofing our houses is also key to engaging with the public on what net zero really means, impacting daily life more than efforts to decarbonise industry or road travel. 

Nowhere is this more apparent than this year’s to-and-fro over the Green Homes Grant, the first scheme in years with a remit to tackle Britain’s poor housing stock. 

Rushed out by the Treasury without proper consultation with industry or other Government departments, the scheme was unable to cope with demand, leaving millions of families with a bad taste in their mouths after trying to take action to cut emissions. 

Not only was the Green Homes Grant popular with families sitting on Covid savings, it was also delivering for lower income households. The latest Government statistics show that more than half of vouchers redeemed thus far have been for work in low income homes, largely insulating solid walls and lofts to reduce energy bills for those who need it the most. 

The widespread debate around the scheme’s early demise – far from normal for a government insulation policy – should spur ministers on to announce an ambitious replacement, again with a focus on less well-off families, for whom energy costs consume up to three times more of household budgets compared with the richest households. 

Ministers this week floated the idea of a successor policy, of an end-date on boilers, and a look at taxes paid on energy bills as part of the Government’s buildings plan, now due in September. This is, and remains, a key test of our net-zero ambitions. 

The urgency stressed in the IPCC’s latest assessment and incoming COP bring the perfect opportunity to get on with the trickier aspects of net zero. There is little time to waste