The UK needs a “war effort” to boost energy efficiency and rapidly insulate millions of homes nationwide in order to cut household bills and carbon emissions, a cross-party group of MPs has said.
In a report on Thursday, the House of Commons environmental audit committee urged the government to do much more to improve the energy efficiency of leaky buildings, reduce energy demand and speed up the transition to cleaner sources of power.
It added that ministers had to set a firm date for ending new oil and gas licensing rounds and should “consider the impact” of the controversial decision to approve a new coal mine in Cumbria on the UK’s ability to influence international climate diplomacy.
“Ministers missed a window of opportunity to accelerate energy efficiency installations in the warmer months of 2022,” the committee said. “A national ‘war effort’ on energy saving and efficiency is required.”
Following the energy crisis sparked by the Ukraine war, scientists and analysts have consistently stressed the urgency of making the UK’s buildings more efficient. They say doing so would reduce energy demand, soaring consumer bills and greenhouse gas emissions.
But the government has been slow to respond, according to the MPs, who branded last year’s energy security plan “an energy supply strategy” that neglected demand-side measures. The plan “should have placed far greater emphasis on energy saving measures”, they said.
Committee chair Philip Dunne called for “bold action”, saying the government “could have gone further and faster” in recent months.
But in his first big speech as prime minister on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak did not include tackling climate change in his five “people’s priorities”.
The committee recommended that ministers allocate some of the money raised from windfall taxes on fossil fuel company profits — due to be in place until 2028 — to the insulation of inefficient homes, and said upgrading the leakiest properties must become “a national priority”.
Its report also urged the government to consider how changes to stamp duty could be used to encourage energy efficiency improvements and set a target of at least 2.5mn energy-saving home installations annually by 2030.
Although the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy held consultations between November 2020 and February 2021 on how new obligations on banks could help homeowners enhance the efficiency of their properties, the government has yet to publish any proposals.
Alongside energy efficiency gains, the committee stressed that more had to be done to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels so that the UK meets its climate goals and enhances its energy security.
The MPs said they were concerned that the government was not doing enough to remove barriers to the rapid deployment of new renewable energy projects, and that there should be a greater focus on the potential of onshore wind power.
The committee recommended that ministers consult on a date for ending new North Sea oil and gas licensing rounds, which it said should be “well before” 2050. It also called for a ban on the routine flaring of fossil gas, a practice that emits methane.
Jess Ralston, head of energy at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, a think-tank, described many of the committee’s recommendations as “no brainers”.
“The billions spent on bailing out bill payers makes the transition away from fossil fuels even more urgent; failing to do so is simply not sustainable,” she said.
The government said it had “committed £6.6bn this parliament and a further £6bn to 2028 to make buildings more energy efficient”.
“We have also launched a new energy saving campaign, raising awareness of simple actions people can take to bring down the amount of energy needed to keep homes warm this winter.”