Target of 300,000 new homes a year could consume UK’s carbon budget

The government’s target to build 300,000 new homes a year to solve the housing crisis could use up the entirety of the UK’s 1.5°C carbon budget, according to a study.

Researchers from several institutions, including the University of Kent, University of Bath and University of Cambridge, used material flow and land use change models to discover that the current housing strategy would consume 104% of the UK’s carbon budget by 2050.

Published in Ecological Economics, the study focused on two existing models, one which evaluates emissions needed to run UK houses and another which looks at emissions created through the construction of new houses.

Currently 92% of emissions are set to come from existing housing stock, while 12% will be emitted through the construction and operation of new builds.

brown brick house under blue sky during daytime

‘Housing expansion to address unmet basic human needs is clearly essential,’ wrote the researchers. ‘Yet, processes linked to housing provision are, under current production technologies, powerful drivers of both biodiversity loss and climate change.

‘This paper explores these issues in the context of England’s housing affordability crisis: England represents a particularly salient case study, as it simultaneously has abundant housing stock, unmet housing need, and legally-binding environmental policy goals reflecting national contributions to addressing key planetary boundaries.

‘England has under-occupied housing stock, but one recent estimate suggests up to 7.9 million people currently experience some symptoms of unmet housing needs predominantly because England has one of the highest rates of housing unaffordability.’

The team have suggested that retrofitting existing housing stock is a key way to reducing carbon emissions and could save 38% of the cumulative carbon budget for 1.5°C.

Emissions coming from existing homes is currently high as many of these were built prewar and are difficult to insulate.

The paper also recommended new-builds should be made zero-carbon and have no net-impact on wildlife populations, while reductions in housing expansion rates could also be beneficial.

The government has agreed to a legally-binding target to halve wildlife declines by 2030 and developments will be obliged to achieve a Biodiversity Net Gain starting in 2023.

All new developments will need to leave biodiversity better off than they found it, but the researchers said this policy’s impact remains ambiguous.

However, the study found planning applications achieving ‘net gain’ from a set of early-adopter councils had a 34% reduction in the area of greenspace despite claiming a 20% improvement in biodiversity overall.

Photo by James Feaver


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