The UK is falling far behind EU countries in its performance and policies on home insulation and energy efficiency, and will lose further ground if “retained laws” from the European Union are scrapped, according to a new study.
The report, by UK pressure group Another Europe is Possible and Germany’s respected Friedrich Ebert Foundation, says the UK is failing to match new EU laws which aim to double the annual rate of building renovation and reduce primary energy consumption by 39% by 2030.
It says that with UK household electricity prices about 30% higher than in neighbouring EU countries, the UK has a “lack of ambition” to match such targets despite the price pressures.
An additional threat is posed, it goes on, by the UK government’s plan to take thousands of EU laws off the statute book by the end of next year, which will further widen the gulf.
The report’s author, David Baldock, senior fellow at the Institute for European Environmental Policy, said: “Our sky-high energy prices mean that we have a clear interest in getting the most out of what we use – but the UK government’s energy efficiency and home insulation agenda continues to lack ambition. This is set to be a key area of UK-EU divergence in the years ahead – as the EU commits its member states to bold targets on efficiency and insulation.
“Divergence is a two-way street. It can mean getting rid of existing EU rules we have inherited from membership. But it can also mean not keeping up with changes the EU is making now.
“We see both of these happening in UK-EU environmental regulation. Devolution adds another level of complexity because, in different ways, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all likely to stay closer to the EU status quo.
“Overall, it’s a mixed picture – with elements of divergence going alongside the expensive duplication of existing EU arrangements without much substantive change. But if the retained EU law bill is not substantially amended, it could see thousands of EU-derived laws taken out of the UK statute book by the end of next year, risking chaos and potentially radical deregulation.”
A Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson said: “Improving the energy efficiency of homes is important to tackling fuel poverty and reducing emissions, and that’s why we’ve committed £6.6bn this parliament and a further £6bn to 2028 to make buildings more energy-efficient.
“The Energy Company Obligation scheme alone has delivered improvements to around 2.4m homes, and just last month we launched our £1bn Eco+ scheme to accelerate these efforts, installing measures in households who have previously not been able to access Eco support.”
On Saturday the department unveiled a new energy efficiency campaign to help people reduce usage and bills.
The campaign, called “It All Adds Up”, lists the government’s top recommendations to help households save money, including reducing the temperature a boiler heats water to before it sends it to radiators from 75C to 60C. This should not reduce the temperature of a home, but could save about £100 annually. Switching appliances off at the plug could save about £70 a year.
Reducing heating loss from the property, by measures such as putting draught excluders around doors or adding clear film to windows, could save about £60 a year
Ed Miliband, shadow secretary of state for climate change and net zero, said: “One of the reasons that energy bills are so high is the Conservative’s disastrous record on heating our homes. Energy efficiency rates are now 20 times lower than under the last Labour government, but Rishi Sunak is failing to act.
“Labour’s Warm Homes Plan would upgrade the 19m homes that need it, cutting bills and creating thousands of good jobs for electricians and engineers across the country.
“Only Labour can deliver the fairer, green future Britain needs, thanks to our green prosperity plan to invest in green industries, and GB Energy, our publicly owned energy company making Britain a clean energy superpower.”
Luke Cooper, senior research fellow at thinktank LSE Ideas, who is also co-founder of campaign group Another Europe Is Possible, blamed Brexit for driving UK on to a different path, one that by definition has made the necessary international cooperation more difficult.
“Brexit is increasingly exposed as a failed project – and our environment is paying the price. This report outlines how we can minimise some of the damage Brexit is causing. Protecting the environment requires close cooperation with states in Europe and across the world.”