Delivering net zero for Scotland’s buildings: Heat in Buildings Bill

thumbnail of Heat in Buildings Bill Consultation March 24This is UNISON Scotland’s response to the Scottish Government consultation on its proposed Heat in Buildings Bill.

We are members of the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition (SCCS) and support the SCCS response[1], as well as some of the response from the Existing Homes Alliance[2], whose energy efficiency work we have regularly supported.

The focus for this consultation is of course how we transform heat in buildings. But it is important to consider that as part of a wider picture which would ensure that the Scottish Government’s developing Green Industrial Strategy would include plans for delivering on heat in buildings and retrofit work at scale – ensuring a skilled workforce and good quality jobs, including in council direct works departments.

Part of the necessary investment to ensure support for the transition to clean heating in homes happens at scale, will be proper funding to ensure grants will cover costs for those on the lowest incomes to switch to heat pumps or district heating schemes, where available.

Major public investment is also needed for public services to decarbonise, as flagged up by UNISON in our Getting to Net Zero in UK Public Services report, published when COP26 was taking place in Glasgow. UNISON, along with SCCS, has proposed in the SCCS Climate Manifesto, the urgent need for increased support to public bodies to decarbonise.  We said:

“Without significant and immediate government funding, public services that are still suffering from a decade of austerity will struggle to decarbonise. The sooner we begin, the sooner we make savings and lower costs.

“The UK Government must commit sufficient funds to bring forward action. The Scottish Government should, in assessing and providing the funds required, immediately establish large scale public sector climate action accelerator funds for public bodies to deliver on specified targets this decade. These could initially be starter funds to pump prime ideas and trials, with further funding following to support positive ideas and successful trials. Good practice should be shared, with action tied also into apprenticeships and upskilling/training, for example, on installation of heat pumps or maintenance of electric vehicles.”

A Just Transition is essential to making sure there is public support and uptake for cleaner heating and transport, among other key changes. We need to make the change in a way that is fair for workers and their families, for the general public to understand and support what is required. This cannot be a case of those with least being asked to pay for a crisis not of their making. The changes can be done in such a way that creates jobs and ensures people have better homes, better air quality, better transport etc.

This requires public sector leadership and investment and delivering on promised climate targets and the claimed benefits such as jobs, reductions in fuel poverty etc. Failing on this leads to cynicism about the whole climate agenda, which is not in anyone’s interests.

To those with concerns about timescales and practicalities, it is important to be realistic and to be ambitious, with accelerated action everywhere that it can be done.

We would argue, as we have done for many years, that the costs of the transition to net zero are less the earlier action is taken. The example of the pandemic is a good one for showing that major public health and safety decisions can be taken and implemented at scale and fast when the political will is there. The pandemic response also shows that public funding is essential. It is important too to protect against private sector profiteering, and potential abuse by ‘rogue traders’ with proper oversight, legislation and regulation.