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We need a retrofit revolution to win the race to net zero

The UK’s draughty housing stock is a key source of emissions. The government needs a comprehensive plan to rectify this.

By James Reed

The UK is in a race to reach net zero by 2050. This will undoubtedly be one of the biggest challenges we, as a country, will ever face. We’ve started to take some tentative steps forward, but a lack of skilled workers means we are already falling behind the trajectory that is required if we are to achieve that 2050 target. Time is not on our side. This is an urgent and important issue.

Nowhere is the UK’s green skills gap more apparent than in the retrofitting of our housing stock. The UK’s 26 million homes are among the least energy efficient in Europe, losing heat at rates up to three times faster than homes on the continent and generating over 20 per cent of the UK’s emissions.

Currently, there is a serious shortage of retrofit training and recruitment pathways, meaning we are unable to even make it to the net zero starting line. Our latest modelling estimates that we are already significantly behind. Current rates of retrofit recruitment will need to triple if the country is to meet its 2050 target. If current rates don’t increase, then we won’t achieve the 17 million energy installations necessary to meet net zero until 2105 – 55 years beyond our goal.

Put simply, there will be no net zero achievement if we don’t develop and train a new retrofit workforce that can be put to work in every corner of the UK. Residential energy efficiency policies have come and gone with limited success. This must change. We need better targeted policies from government, but this responsibility cannot rest solely on the state’s shoulders. Private landlords and local authorities both have skin in the game and will have a big opportunity to drive demand for retrofitting at scale as they update ageing dwellings and build new developments.

While the retrofit challenge is not without its hurdles, it also comes with huge economic potential. When it comes to accelerating our transition, investing in people is every bit as important as investing in infrastructure. While it’s easy to get wrapped up in exciting technologies, like carbon capture or floating offshore wind farms, closer to home there’s a scalable opportunity to create thousands of highly skilled jobs, and to spread the benefits these jobs will bring to people across Britain and to their local communities.

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Net zero is a generational challenge. We all need to find our unique way of contributing to this. If we can turn the tide on retrofit, we will make a meaningful difference for society and for the planet, county by county, town by town, home by home.

[See also: The bold policy that could help Labour solve the housing crisis]

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