Of Green Deals, politics, the media and … Saving the World #CarbonCoop #climate

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

Jonathan Atkinson
Carbon Coop


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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10 Responses to Of Green Deals, politics, the media and … Saving the World #CarbonCoop #climate

  1. Disagree quite strongly with Jonathan’s views on Green Deal – think there are much better ways of improving fabric of UK homes so households can use less energy – check out Calderdale Council tells DECC that Green Deal is “cause for concern” http://www.energyroyd.org.uk/archives/8879

  2. Jonathan Atkinson says:

    I’d 100% agree with Calderdale Council (in fact I’m presenting to their Energy Future Panel on Monday!) I’m not saying the Green Deal doesn’t need radical change, Carbon Co-op have signed up 13 households to our Community Green Deal programme (http://carbon.coop/content/whole-house-retrofit-community-green-deal) a model based on co-operative, community action and not part of the Government’s Green Deal. We’ve done so because our model is based on equity and householder control.

    What I (and Calderdale Council) am not saying is Green Deal needs to be scrapped. We’re saying it needs to get better, to be better controlled by householders and communities.

  3. Jonathan Atkinson says:

    Community Green Deal report:
    …this model informed the development of Carbon Co-op’s model.

  4. gille liath says:

    It’s not surprising, though, that the take-up is poor when this government is still all about trying to make fossil fuels cheaper (ie fracking). They haven’t really tried to sell this – and it’s probably the wrong project anyway. Rather than complicated and expensive ‘deep refits’ and inefficient small scale renewable equipment, we should probably concentrate on something simple like getting every home’s insulation up to scratch – and doing something about pointlessly wasteful consumer goods.

    • Jonathan Atkinson says:

      I agree with some of your comments but not on the idea of shying away from deep retrofit. If we are to make the 2050 targets for household carbon reduction we need to be delivering whole house approaches to retrofit at scale. Focussing on small measures means the cheaper, easier stuff gets done now and the remaining carbon reductions are far harder and more expensive to achieve. In some cases earlier measures would have to be removed to enable later ones.

      Whole house is complex but achievable and on a realistic budget (http://carbon.coop/news/2013-03-22/carbon-co-op-technical-partners-demonstrate-80-retrofit-possible-and-right-price). And the technology isn’t about eco-bling and techno fixes, it’s about applying tried and tested, human scale technology with thought and planning.

      If we’re to meet the challenge of delivering a safer climate future we need to be ambitious and deploy these, sometimes, complex solutions.

      • gille liath says:

        Do we? 🙂

        I looked at your link, but it doesn’t really illuminate anything for me. I don’t know what assumptions your ideas are based on, but it seems to me that – bigger picture – the way ahead is to consume less, not spend more.

        In any case, it’s important to concentrate on what is realistically achievable. Jenny Shepherd’s link, by contrast, says that Green Deals has actually caused a 97% drop in insulation projects. That’s really appalling, if true, and suggests that this is not an idea that just needs a bit of tinkering – it’s completely the wrong approach.

  5. Dominic says:

    Retro-fitting houses (and other buildings) represents a huge opportunity for sustainable local businesses to expand. The aim should be that small / medium sized construction firms and suppliers of insulation and engery efficiency products provide jobs locally and improve the quality of peoples houses. The financing of the scheme should ideally be on a mutual or credit union basis. Carbon Coop are trailing all these ideas!

  6. Sam Darby says:

    I’m glad that Jonathan has raised this matter. His presentation seems balanced until the last two paragraphs when he appears to suggest that we have to go along with this scheme, though his later comments belie this.
    It’s difficult when a reactionary government adopts a green cover (“the greenest government ever”) but then goes on to act in the same old way and provides schemes to help business to make profits under that green cover and rip off the plebs.
    I am not aware of the details of the Carbon Co-op scheme, though I am sure it will be better than the so-called Green Deal and I am not knowledgeable enough on the insulation/retrofit question. The question that has come to mind while reading the other contributions, is that with the Government drive for fracking gas and the £ one billion tax breaks for oil and gas exploration off the Shetland Isles, we cannot just ignore the Governments scheme. We must strongly criticise the failure of Government to make it an effective scheme, by taking on board the points that Jonathon makes in his third paragraph.
    I also think that had we a group of green MP’s there would be more pressure on Governments to continue with schemes to reduce carbon emmisions and for those schemes to be effective. I am of course a Green Party member.

  7. I’m a few months late to this article, but, the best thing I think that has come out from the green deal is that people are talking about and interested in energy efficiency. I’m a heating engineer who has regularly tried to tell people that a better way of saving money on bills and making their home more comfortable in the process is to insulate. Not just the loft or a cavity, if they have one, but also solid walls and reduce gaps under the floor. Simple things would make a huge difference. The reply was normally “Nah, just want a new boiler”.
    The worst thing to happen, apart from the slow and delayed start, is the ECO scheme and the band wagon jumping. Huge amounts are being spent wacking in boilers into fuel poor homes, without addressing the core problem, they leak heat like sieves do water.

    • Hello Richard,
      we also did an interview with Michael O’Doherty about the Green Deal and Greater Manchester that might be of interest. It went up in early July, as I recall… Let me know what you think. If you want to write something for MCFly, feel free (can’t pay of course…)

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