A vote of no confidence?

As we approach the final run-in to the General Election on May 7th, it’s interesting but also somewhat disheartening to note how the green agenda seems to have fallen far down the pecking order of the main three parties’ manifestos.

In general, the parties are woolly at best when it comes to climate change and CO2 targets, and while they are all going to build houses there is a glaring emission in terms of mentioning the 2016 zero carbon homes target, possibly in the hope we all forget about that one. Specific pledges are few and far between on energy efficiency when it comes to new build or refurbished homes. Even in the light of the recent painful recession, it seems that many key issues which directly affect voters have been neglected in favour of stock election subject matter, such as the NHS and financial responsibility.

In a recent blog I highlighted the fact that the Conservatives have largely failed on their mission to be the ‘greenest government ever’, but somewhat bizarrely their manifesto boldy states that they are entitled to claim this honour, thanks to their Green Investment Bank and “bringing energy efficiency measures to over 1 million homes.” However whether or not they can be hauled over the coals for this bit of spin is debatable, as there is little basis for comparison in terms of a previous UK Government. None of our administrations can claim to have been world leaders on green issues.

Cameron has morphed from sledding across the Arctic as a green champion to the lukewarm 2015 Manifesto pledge of wanting to “cut carbon emissions as cheaply as possible.” Yes he has tied himself to building 200,000 homes in the next parliament (a pledge matched by Labour), and has a ‘goal’ of insulating another million homes, but the green hue seems to have permanently faded, despite the economy once more heading into the black.

The Lib Dems seem to at least notionally be putting more effort into meeting green goals, and their idea of cutting council tax for homeowners making substantial improvements in energy efficiency is a good start, as people need to see short term rewards to make the changes. However after the spectacular failure of the Green Deal’s overly-complex financial model, they really need to think about a clear and attractive funding system.

I don’t buy the line that a need for austerity meant the Government necessarily had to roll back on sustainability. The recession would have been a perfect opportunity for the Government to invest in energy efficiency, as a means to help bring the construction sector out of a depressed market. We would have a more buoyant industry around sustainability and energy efficiency as a result and would have helped address our inefficient existing building stock to make some ground on the 2016 zero carbon target.

We have a huge range of energy efficiency issues to address in the UK building stock, but great problems often force the most innovative solutions. However on current evidence none of the main parties wants to really grasp what is a great opportunity for the industry, and take the lead. We have a massive pool of talent and knowhow in the UK who are ready to bring the necessary improvements, but the levers need to be there.

I fervently hope that whichever administration does come into office realises the potential. They will however need genuine ambition to once again be leaders rather than followers on innovation, smart approaches and problem solving.