Battle against climate change begins at home

26/11/2009 Guardian An imaging camera capturing the heat loss of a typical house.
Next month world leaders will gather in Copenhagen to thrash out a deal to
tackle climate change. Reaching agreement at this UN summit will be the key to
addressing one of the defining challenges of our century. But the hard work
isn’t just setting those targets, it’s reaching them. Each country will have to
set their own priorities to reduce emissions and here in the UK, we’ll need to
look close to home.
Twenty-seven per cent of all the carbon emissions in this country actually come
from the homes we all live in. So it’s clear that improving the carbon footprint
of our housing stock is crucial if we are to meet our legally binding carbon
reduction targets.
Part of the solution lies in making the new homes we build as energy efficient
as possible and I enthusiastically endorse the concept of building all new homes
at zero carbon. However, the fact remains that 85% of the housing stock that
we’ll be living in by 2050 already exists.
So, there is a simple and, once again, inconvenient truth – greening-up the 25m
existing homes is essential. The efficiency of these properties has been largely
ignored thus far.
Under a Conservative government however we will introduce the Green Deal. Every
household in this country will be entitled to an allowance of up to £6,500 for
energy improvements. Utilities companies, charities, social landlords will
improve homes with no cost to the homeowner.
Healthy competition in retro-fits will create 70,000 new jobs and a £2.5bn
marketplace, while consumers save money and most importantly 9.4m tonnes of
carbon emissions are avoided. It’s a great scheme, but that doesn’t necessarily
lead to great take-up. The key is to create a trigger for people to easily and
quickly sign up for retro-fitting.
Imagine if you could walk into your favourite store, buy some clothes or do your
weekly shop and then at the checkout, as you hand over your clubcard, the
cashier offers you the prospect of permanently lower utility bills. There’s
nothing to pay, now or later. Your home will be retro-fitted and all you’ll
notice is that it costs less to heat and power it. Unless you enjoy burning
money, you’re going to love the Green Deal. Behind the scenes this retailer is
working with the banking sector to fund the £6,500 spent on retro-fitting your
home, resulting in home improvements like energy-efficient lighting, modern
boilers, cavity and loft insulation.
Under a Conservative government you won’t have to imagine this scheme, because
the likes of Marks & Spencer and Tesco are already interested and more providers
of all types will want to get in on the act. In future you’ll be able to pick-up
your groceries and green-up your home at the same time.
But living a greener life isn’t just about the physical changes you can make to
your home; it’s about how you live in it too.
Even without retro-fitting our properties, there are plenty of things we can do
to influence our energy consumption behaviour. Last year I installed a small
device which sits on the window sill in our kitchen and constantly reports how
much electricity we’re using as a household.
This particular energy monitor is called a Wattson and it expresses itself £s
sterling. Worryingly it let us know when we switched everything off, we were
still spending about £700 per annum on powering our home.
That’s the fridge, the freezer and those TVs and chargers which all prefer to go
on standby, rather than off.
With the kettle and toaster on for a cuppa and sandwich the clever little
monitor told us that our electricity bill could hit £7,000 per annum.
Now rather than filling the kettle to the top, we put just enough water in for
cups we’re making. Meanwhile, the kids spend their time hunting round the house
searching out left on lights and Nintendo DSs which are charged but still
plugged into the mains. Devices like this can really alter habits.
For the first time we also became aware that a TV or computer monitor left on
standby costs around 15p per day.
With two, three or maybe four screens in the house that’s a couple of hundred
pounds per year.
Slashing the 27% of carbon currently emitted from our homes is a big ask. The
Green Deal enables a combination of the physical and the behavioural changes
needed to make a big difference straight away. It removes barriers currently
preventing a domestic green revolution. It gives us a significantly better
chance of meeting our Kyoto obligations.
As we head towards the Copenhagen summit the Conservative party understands that
the solution to the global challenge of climate change truly begins at home.
• Grant Shapps is the Conservative shadow housing minister

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