Jonathan Atkinson of Carbon Coop reflects on Green Deals, (ir)responsible journalism and messy political realities…
So Green Deal, the Government’s flagship domestic sustainability programme is screwed. It’s been going six months and only a handful of people have signed up for loans. Time for us on the Left to rub our hands with glee. Told you so. Empty government promises, energy company interference and simple bad planning have scuppered it.
But hang on, is it that simple? At the heart of Green Deal is a sound idea. Householders who want to reduce their energy emissions get an assessment on their home which indicates which low carbon measures they should do first, they choose a company with lots of guarantees and quality kite marks to do the work . An upfront loan to pay for it is repaid from fuel bill savings over time.
The execution so far has been flawed. The assessments cost too much, make too many assumptions and deliver too little detail for householders. The loans are too expensive and too complicated. The companies involved are untrusted by consumers and Green Deal itself has become a target for fraudsters and mis-sellers. There’s too little post-occupancy monitoring to ensure the measures implemented are working.
But the scope, scale and ambition of the programme is huge. We’ve 26 million homes in the UK and most of them are performing in energy terms like the age of cheap fuel hadn’t ended. Bills are sky-rocketing and our ambitious carbon reduction obligations require us to reduce household emissions by a staggering 80% by 2050. To top it off, it’s becoming increasingly evident that millions of people are suffering the respiratory health effects of living in under-heated, draughty homes.
For politicians the Green Deal presents a dilemma. Those of us in the real world, faced with a complex problem or task, would break it down in to manageable phases. We’d trial our approach, see how effective it had been, tweak our methods accordingly and re-test. Such and approach requires time and patience.
But Government doesn’t operate like that. They’re on a five year cycle. The pressure is to scrap what the last lot did, re-invent the wheel. Launch your approach with a big bang and hey presto, the world is saved.
But it hasn’t happened and the national press love a bad story. The hubris of politicians is revealed, egg on their faces. On the whole the press are uninterested in the complexities of the story, it doesn’t fit with the news cycle or make a splash headline.
But 26 million radically different homes indicate Green Deal needs 5-10 years of small scale roll out, testing, trialling and re-testing. The technologies are new, the supply chain unfamiliar with new tools and techniques. We must avoid the situation where cheap materials are rolled out at scale, with social housing tenants around the UK acting as guinea pigs. In this context it’s actually encouraging that so few people have taken up the Green Deal.
The big danger in the failure of Green Deal to date is not that it confirms prejudices on the left but those of the right. That this eco nonsense is a waste of time and money, another dodgy deal. Worse, an attitude purveys that ‘it’s all too complicated’, and because saving energy in the home is complex we shouldn’t even care about it. Like the dilemma of food miles and whether a flight to Australia is worse than a Mediterranean cruise. ‘If I can’t do it right what’s the point in doing anything?’
The danger is that Green Deal becomes an embarrassment, a political hot potato, a way for the opposition and national press to beat the coalition up, and is quietly dropped. It’s a lesson in short term politics and the almost total unsuitability of modern day culture to deal with the long term challenges presented by climate change.
The Green Deal is a good idea. Carbon Co-op and other community organisations are pioneering ways to deliver retrofit in a fair, equitable and environmentally sustainable fashion – at the moment we are doing so outside of Green Deal but that doesn’t mean the programme should be scrapped.
We think Green Deal is a great opportunity to encourage the whole house ‘deep’ retrofit required to hit out 2050 targets and a better place for government to invest in as oppose to new roads and nuclear power stations.
Ultimately it’s in all our interests to make this work. Otherwise we’ll be left with 26 million problems and a lot of carbon on our hands