2019: a half-year review by James Higgings

Article written by James Higgins, originally published in the June edition of  H&V News Magazine.

Not long ago, my optimism for the new year (ignoring Brexit for the moment) had me believing that 2019 would bring about a series of developments in energy efficiency and heating policy. Now we are almost at the halfway mark, I am inclined to reflect on what we have achieved so far and what is still yet to be done.

In the realm of tackling climate change, it often feels as though it is all talk and little hard action to tackle carbon emissions, inefficient housing and the like. But as we enter June, it is worth acknowledging that we’ve already seen significant policy announcements that will shape the low-carbon transition for years to come – and heat decarbonisation is right at the heart of current thinking.

The Chancellor’s Spring Statement, for example, announced the Future Homes Standard which will mandate the end of fossil fuel heating in new-build homes as of 2025. While the debate over replacement options continues within the industry, it is encouraging to see direction from the government as carbon emissions targets draw closer.

To improve air quality, we have seen the launch of London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone and the announcement of Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone which will kick-start in January next year. The promised Smart Export Guarantee has replaced the feed-in-tariff which ended in March and a net-zero carbon report by the Committee on Climate Change has set out how the UK can reach its targets by 2050.

We’ve also seen substantial growth in activism such as the Extinction Rebellion and student protests right across the country, shutting down major roads and bridges in London throughout the weeks of April and resulting in more than 1,000 arrests. David Attenborough’s coinciding documentary reached into our living rooms to highlight the effects of climate change and increase public support for the low-carbon transition.
Yet while protesters demand more action on climate change, the prospect of a faster transition can create uncertainty for those whose livelihoods depend on existing fossil fuel technologies. Birmingham taxi drivers have portrayed this perfectly, protesting against the clean air charge that will impact their working life.

Much to the detriment of anyone working in sustainable energy, climate change is one of the most complex areas of policy across the globe. Headlines that focus on inflated energy prices and depict an ‘attack on the consumer’ often risk stoking public fear of green policy. It goes without saying that pursuing policy that imposes additional cost can lead to challenging conversations with the general public.

This was made clear by the gilet jaunes protests which led the French Government to postpone its proposed fuel tax increase that had been announced as a flagship climate change policy. In the aftermath of this backtrack from policymakers across the channel, I had wondered whether politicians in the UK would seek to water down green policy to keep the public on side. Quite ironically, we have seen a rise in public protests throughout the year instead, with some people not only accepting green policy but demanding it.

Those invested in a future heat policy will all be watching out for the impact of the major political changes expected in the second half of 2019. However, experience gained from the first half of the year suggests we must also monitor what is happening at street level – on our TV screens and social media.

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See the original article from H&V here