Lord Deben chides politicians for failing to act on decarbonisation of heat

The major Westminster parties are showing insufficient urgency about efforts to decarbonise heat, the chair of the government’s climate change watchdog has warned.

Lord Deben, chair of the Committee on Climate Change, told a conference yesterday (3 December) that all three major parties were approaching the issue too “delicately”.

The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have all committed to cutting carbon emissions to net zero, albeit by different dates.

But all three manifestos have been criticised for containing insufficient detail about short term plans to cut emissions from heating which, along with transport, is widely reckoned to be the biggest challenge facing decarbonisation.

Speaking at a conference on heat networks, organised by Westminster Forum , Lord Deben said: “It’s not enough and it’s not fast enough and it’s not right enough.

“We don’t have the degree of urgency that we need to have. We are not where we ought to be.”

As an example of the kind of progress that is needed, he said that “nobody” should be developing new homes without “appropriate”, low-carbon solutions to heating in their plans.

But the peer cautioned that the right approach for the government is not to step in and deliver solutions itself but instead to create the conditions for the market to develop them, as it did with the Contacts for Difference regime, which has stimulated the growth of the offshore wind industry.

“We have to do things like that: this isn’t a cottage industry.

“We need a very much faster approach and a very much more urgent attention.

“This is much more urgent than we thought and will be forced upon us because we only have ten years before we have an irreversible change that we don’t know how to deal with.

“If we don’t get it right, we will still be talking about this in ten years time and frankly it will be too late.”

But he expressed confidence that a way will be found to produce hydrogen, which could provide a low carbon substitute for natural gas in heating systems, cheaper than is currently possible.

Andrew Cripps, regional director of sustainability at consultancy AECOM, warned that the transition to a lower-carbon heating system is likely to lead to higher bills

“We may have to face up to the fact that heat may be need to become more expensive in order to hit these (decarbonisation) targets.”

But he said that by rolling out more heat network schemes, expertise can be built up that will eventually lead to lower costs.

Cripps also told delegates that the next round of the business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) department’s Heat Networks Investment Projects is due to be announced after the election, having been held back due to purdah rules.