Policy & Governance

Our policy and governance research team has found that there are unexplored policy opportunities to support the switch to a net-zero economy. Faster and deeper cuts to carbon emissions can be achieved by expanding the scope of energy policy, introducing new policy tools, finding ‘non-energy’ policy opportunities and by transforming multi-level governance & policy evaluation.

There is a need for better retrofit policy

Current UK buildings policy – for both domestic and non-domestic buildings – are insufficient to meet the challenge of climate change. We’ve concluded that significant changes in governance, policy, culture and practice are required. An energy performance metric applied to commercial buildings in Australia has driven improvements in energy efficiency. Our research concluded that a similar approach could work in the UK.

Successful retrofit for energy efficiency needs to pay attention to the opportunities offered at trigger points such as when a building changes hands. Retrofit must align to building-specific requirements and should acknowledge that retrofit must satisfy multiple objectives (e.g. comfort as well as running costs).

New funding models for retrofit – such as a salary sacrifice scheme – could open up new routes for homeowners to improve domestic energy efficiency, but needs to link financial services, project management and evaluation.

Cultural and structural change is needed regarding skills

The UK construction sector currently operates in a low-skills equilibrium. A cultural and structural change is needed to value and encourage the high-level skills required to produce low-energy buildings. Timing is critical: necessary changes to education and training must be accompanied by industry reform at the same time so that there is demand for these newly-skilled professionals.

Multi-level governance offers routes to action on net-zero

Focusing attention on policy institutions and how they might innovate could offer new routes to action on net-zero goals. Our comparisons between UK nations and cities provide lessons and examples of better practice.

Future ‘City Deals’ and similar local/regional funding initiatives would benefit from incorporating cross-sectoral measures to address climate change challenges. Governance of net-zero buildings needs innovative institutions. We show that current structures are not working and a more collective approach can deliver net-zero buildings. For example, Scotland has a more comprehensive and planned approach to energy efficiency than England, but both traditions lack the urgency to meet carbon targets.

Ambitious governance is needed

Our research identified some novel opportunities to tackle climate change and reduce energy demand. By expanding the scope of energy policy, introducing new policy tools, finding ‘non-energy’ policy opportunities and by transforming multi-level governance & policy evaluation, faster and deeper cuts to carbon emissions can be achieved.

Acting on the timely evaluation of climate and energy-related policies could help to increase the pace and scale of innovation in this area. Framing policy discussions around energy sufficiency (what is ‘enough’ and who determines this) would move beyond the focus on technological advances to consider the broader challenges of a successful energy transition.

New types of services could unlock energy efficiency and sources of lower carbon energy, but would need policies that protect consumers and support innovation. Our work has identified policy changes that would empower local authorities to offer bespoke services for net-zero carbon buildings. Our research suggests that peer to peer trading communities could be used to optimise the supply and demand of locally-generated energy.

Energy demand unlocks the transition to net-zero

A shift to a more efficient energy system reduces energy demand overall, with positive consequences for the journey to net-zero energy.  This benefit of moving to energy sources like wind and solar which directly produce electricity compared to fossil fuels which produce heat, means that the shift can be smaller in scale than generally expected.

There is a fundamental ‘asymmetry’ in the way policy and investments deal with energy demand and supply. Energy demand as a solution to challenges such as net-zero or fuel poverty is irrationally neglected in favour of changes to energy supply. We do not yet understand the causes and reinforcing mechanisms underlying this asymmetry.

Findings report

Banner photo credit: Shutterstock