Consultants say government risks up to 2 million tonnes of additional emissions after zero-carbon homes U-turn

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An additional 2 million tonnes of CO2 emissions could be produced each year by 2020 as a result of the government’s decision to axe zero carbon targets, according to industry experts.

The decision, which included ditching both the proposed 2016 uprating of building regulations and the proposed “allowable solutions” carbon offsetting scheme, was announced as part of chancellor George Osborne’s productivity drive, Fixing the Foundations, last week.

A snapshot analysis produced by architect HTA and corroborated by other consultants, suggests that each home produced to current building regulations will emit two tonnes more carbon per year than those previously proposed under the “zero carbon” target.

Should the government hit its target of building 200,000 homes a year over the next five years, then by 2020 those homes will produce an additional two million tonnes of CO2 each per year as a result of the government’s decision.

HTA’s calculation is based on estimates produced to support the design of its zero-carbon homes for housebuilder Barratt at Hanham Hall in Gloucestershire.

The axing of the targets also means new homes will be affected by higher running costs, experts warned. Rory Bergin, partner for sustainable futures at housing architect HTA, told Building he estimated additional energy bill costs in the region of £200 per year per household, totalling a yearly £200m spent on energy by consumers.

Homes built under the policy will also continue making additional carbon emissions throughout their lives, meaning impact of the policy will grow.

“The impact in the long term could be far far higher than two million tonnes,” said Bergin.

The increase in CO2 emissions will also create an additional cost as the extra CO2 will need to be offset elsewhere to meet the UK’s legally binding CO2 budgets.

Simon Sturgis, managing director at Sturgis Carbon Profiling agreed that new homes would emit in the region of two additional tonnes of carbon per year because of the policy change, and said there was a need to “tackle the economic argument [against sustainability].”

Isabel McAllister, sustainability director at Mace, said: “Delivering the zero carbon trajectory was not difficult and did not mean incurring unacceptable costs.”

UK Green Building Council chief executive Julie Hirigoyen labelled the move “bizarre” and “very disappointing.” She said: “It’s a bizarre U-turn on a policy which was well underway. The government has changed the goalposts six months before the 2016 deadline. It’s very disappointing, to say the least.”

However, housebuilders welcomed the plans as a reduction in red-tape. Sarah McMonagle, head of external affairs at the Federation of Master Builders, said the “unnecessary zero carbon standards” had “threatened to perpetuate the housing crisis and impose significant additional costs on small housebuilders”.