Do we need a more ambitious target to reduce energy demand?

The UK government has set a goal to reduce energy demand by 15% by 2030. But is it enough and are there sufficient plans in place to deliver it?

Reducing our oversized appetite for energy is essential if we are to avoid climate disaster.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) Report, 'Net Zero by 2050: a roadmap for the global energy system', the UK’s Energy Bill will not come anywhere near stemming climate disaster with this target.

To take just one sector - the built environment - to come close to meeting the necessary carbon reduction targets that might enable us to stay within 1.5C of warming, the report states that existing housing stock must be immediately retrofitted, and far greater reductions in carbon emissions from building and construction achieved.

Some 27% of all global energy related carbon emissions come from our buildings. The IEA states that energy currently used in our buildings has to rapidly fall by a factor of five and this can only be achieved through thermal insulation, triple glazing and modern heating systems such as PV panels and heat-pumps. 

For us to come close to keeping to 1.5C warming, there needs to be an annual retrofitting rate of 2.5% until 2030. We fall far short of this, at under 1%.

The IEA report concludes that the sector must achieve a 50% cut in direct emissions from current housing stock (heating, cooling, living) and a 60% cut in indirect emissions for new builds (carbon footprint of building fabric, eg. cement) in the next eight years. There is an excellent diagram of the targets we must meet, for all sectors, from page 152 of the report (click here).

To align with the IEA Net Zero Emissions (NZE) by 2050 scenario, renewable heat consumption would have to advance 2.4 times more quickly than that anticipated in our current targets, and wide-scale behavioural change and much larger energy and material efficiency improvements are required to reduce heat demand.

The UK is not alone in this challenge. European countries are also retrofitting at a rate of less than 1% of buildings a year, which is not nearly enough.

However, the EU has prepared legislation that aims to at least double energy retrofit rates by 2030, as part of a 'Renovation Wave' strategy that sets out the policies to deliver this.

The UK, meanwhile, is still lacking a 'clear analysis of which mix of policy measures gets the UK to the 15% target and assures future funding for those policies', according to the recent Skidmore Review.

It seems the UK’s current target to reduce energy demand and its plans to achieve it needs an injection of urgency and ambition if we want this planet to remain our home.

PeCAN Trustees Melanie Oxley & Greg Ford