Catherine Hall: The whole housing sector needs to face up to the climate emergency

Outlining CIH Scotland’s support for Scottish Housing Day’s climate emergency focus, Catherine Hall argues that the sector must act to decarbonise homes across all tenures if it is to play a meaningful part in tackling the crisis.

Catherine Hall: The whole housing sector needs to face up to the climate emergency

Catherine Hall

The climate emergency represents the defining crisis of our time and yet it remains a race that we are dangerously losing. Whilst global warming has spent many years on the back burner of political and public discussions, the true extent of the climate crisis is beginning to become rapidly apparent.

Climate change knows no boundaries, leaving every corner of the globe vulnerable to its destruction. No continent is immune from its impacts, and if we are to have a fighting chance of survival, the world must undergo fundamental transformations across all aspects of society – including our housing – which is why CIH Scotland supports Scottish Housing Day’s focus on housing and the climate emergency.

The Scottish Government has signalled a promising commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, as well as ambitious interim targets to reduce emissions by 75% by 2030 and 90% by 2040. As part of this strategy, more than one million homes will be fitted with low and zero carbon heating systems by 2030. This is where the housing sector has an indispensable role to play.

At present, Scotland’s homes account for 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Absent a radical decarbonisation of our housing stock, it will prove near impossible to deliver upon these national climate change objectives. However, this does not represent an easy task with a silver bullet solution, nor can it be paid mere lip service.

Whilst the general pathway to the decarbonisation of Scotland’s homes will broadly entail an iterative and additive approach, that will follow successive improvements between 2021 to 2050, this approach must be greatly influenced by tenure. Significant levels of investment and cooperation will be required from individuals across all housing tenures, but these will inevitably necessitate different approaches. It is therefore vital that the Scottish Government’s route map recognises the importance of distinguishing between tenures, which are likely to demand different levers to support change.

Whilst the Scottish Government’s draft Heat in Buildings Strategy includes an ‘all-tenure zero emissions heat standard’, there remains a crucial need for further research into the potential impact and demand across varying tenures. New research commissioned for Scottish Housing Day will seek to offer a more comprehensive and in-depth study that takes account of these different tenures and their associated challenges.

Generally speaking, tenants in both the social and private rented sectors are more likely to experience a lower ability to adapt to climate change than that of homeowners, not merely as a direct result of their actual living arrangements, but also other contributing characteristics such as lower income levels.

Social landlords have already invested significant sums of money into improving existing homes towards meeting Energy Efficiency Standards for Social Housing (EESSH). This can be linked to their inherent social and charitable purpose, which private landlords do not typically possess. In this sense, social housing is already outperforming other tenures where minimum energy efficiency targets have not been introduced yet.

We are dangerously close to running out of time to prevent an irreversible climate catastrophe. We are currently in the decisive decade for tackling the climate emergency, with a planetary tipping point close on the horizon. Whilst a painful realisation, it is one that we can no longer ignore. Decarbonising our homes will form a crucial part of achieving our net-zero carbon emission ambition by 2045. However, it is vital that we design mechanisms that reflect differing interests, motivations, challenges and capabilities to act across all tenures if we are to witness true change.

You can find out more about housing and the climate emergency by visiting the Scottish Housing Day website. You can also join us for a free online event on 15 September where you’ll hear from special guest speakers and get a first look at the new research commissioned for Scottish Housing Day.

  • Catherine Hall is the policy and practice officer at CIH Scotland and a legal researcher in climate change law
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