By Sarah Beattie-Smith, Climate and Energy Policy Officer at WWF Scotland
In the week that The Queen opened the Queensferry Crossing, it’s a good moment to think about what Scotland’s next great engineering feat will be. Some say we should be building more roads or railways, but the infrastructure investment that would make the biggest positive difference to our economy, environment and health is much closer to home.
Scotland’s homes and buildings are amongst the coldest and leakiest in Europe. In colder countries like Sweden and Norway, fuel poverty barely exists. Yet here, around a third of all households find themselves in fuel poverty, caused by a toxic combination of high prices, low incomes, the way we use energy in our homes and, crucially, poor energy efficiency.
The negative effects of living in a cold home are well known. Cold homes increase the risk of lung disease and other respiratory illness. There’s evidence of lower educational attainment amongst children trying to do homework in cold, dark houses. And we know that right now, nearly three quarters of a million people are paying for the privilege of heating the air outside their homes because the buildings are too inefficient to keep the heat in. These are just some of the serious social consequences to the slow progress currently being made in improving Scotland’s housing stock.
Poor energy efficiency is also a disaster for the climate. Around 13% of all our emissions come from homes, and the energy used to heat our homes and buildings accounts for more than 50% of all the energy used in Scotland. Minimal and non-existent insulation in far too many homes means that we’re burning fossil fuels to produce heat which simply leaches out of our doors, windows and roofs. Even making the welcome switch to renewables won’t stop that energy being wasted if we don’t seize the opportunity to act on energy efficiency.
So what needs to be done?
We’re calling for the Scottish Government’s new Climate Change Bill to set a binding legal target for all homes to meet at least an Energy Performance rating of ‘C’ by 2025. This would lift hundreds of thousands of people out of fuel poverty, whilst delivering twice the level of carbon savings that would be delivered under the Scottish Government’s current plans.
To make sure that this transformation of our housing stock takes place in a way that creates jobs across Scotland and gets taxpayers and consumers the biggest bang for their buck, we’re also calling for the Bill to set up a new independent public body.
If the Scottish Government delivered on just these two things, the benefits to Scotland would be enormous. Within just a few years, fuel poverty could be all but eradicated, delivering savings to the NHS budgets in Scotland to the tune of £48-80m a year. Getting all homes to a C rating would save a million tonnes of carbon and make a huge difference to Scottish and global efforts to fight climate change. And along the way, investing properly in energy efficiency could create 8000-9000 jobs each year, all across Scotland.
Using the Climate Change Bill to deliver real change in energy efficiency is an opportunity too good to miss.