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Install more insulation in buildings, public sector urged

The public sector can do more to combat climate change, reduce emissions and increase energy efficiency by fitting more insulation, according to managing director of programmes at the Carbon Trust Richard Rugg.

Mr Rugg made this point in an article for Public Sector Executive, in which he pointed to a mixed picture on reducing emissions in the UK.

He noted that, overall, Britain has made solid progress in reducing its emissions. These are 38 per cent lower than they were in 1990 and they have been falling by around 4.5 per cent each year since 2012. Moreover, he said, the government's commitment to maintaining progress has been unaffected by the political upheavals caused by Brexit, with the publication of the Industrial Strategy demonstrating this.

However, Mr Rugg noted, the bulk of the progress made in tackling emissions has been made by industry and the energy sector. In the public sector, things are much more mixed. Most government departments have succeeded in lowering their carbon footprints, but the record of local councils came in for criticism.

He observed: "Here is where the story gets more complicated. Those reductions are mostly a result of the transformation of the power sector, particularly the shift away from coal generation. Looking beyond electricity, huge challenges remain in reducing emissions from buildings, putting in place a low-carbon transportation infrastructure, and meeting our demand for heat in a clean and sustainable way. And these are all areas where the public sector has a significant role to play."

Where local councils had fallen down, he noted, is in the deployment of measures such as insulation. This may indicate some "backsliding" on past promises.

Mr Rugg remarked: "Although more than a third of English councils are signed up to the LGA’s Climate Local initiative, which encourages emissions reductions and greater resilience to the increased risk of climate-related impacts such as flooding, in March 2016 it was announced that support on these issues would be reduced.

"Councils have been instrumental in driving greater domestic energy efficiency and the development of low-carbon heat. But between 2013 and 2015, annual rates of cavity wall insulation were down 60 per cent from where they were in 2008 to 2012. Over the same period loft insulation rates fell by 90 per cent. And heat pumps and district heating schemes met less than half a percent of the UK’s total heat demand in 2015."

He added that the key for councils is better investment, with a focus on low-carbon development. This meant communicating the benefits of such investments in terms of making a contribution over decades to the reduction of emissions, as well as simple gains such as the reduction of fuel poverty for families receiving insulation.

The criticisms made in the article may be stinging ones for some councils, but for many they could be a wake-up call.

It may be argued, however, that not every local authority is falling behind. Scottish Housing News recently reported on how Clackmannanshire is using a combination of its own money and cash from the Scottish Government's HEEPS:ABS scheme to fit new insulation in 114 homes across three towns. This is just one of many instances across the UK that may be cited of schemes designed to improve insulation rates.

Even so, for some local authorities, it may be a case of "if the hat fits, wear it" - and for them, the words of Mr Rugg need to be heeded and to generate the right response.