UK government says energy certificates need ‘fundamental reform’ in latest green shift

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The government plans to revise energy performance certificates as part of a broader rethink of green policies before the next election.

The system for measuring the energy performance of buildings is “designed as an information tool to meet the requirements of EU membership” and needs “fundamental reform,” a Whitehall official told the Financial Times.

The proposal is likely to find support in the Tory backbenches, both among Brexiteers, who want to cut red tape in the EU, and among net-zero skeptics, who are pushing for green initiatives that impose costs on struggling Britons to be scaled back.

Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak indicated he was ready to tone down the government’s green policies, saying he did not want to “bother” voters in a time of high inflation or “stuff” household bills by introducing new costs linked to the environmental agenda.

His intervention followed the Tories’ surprise victory in last week’s Uxbridge by-election, which all sides attributed to party opposition to a flagship Labor-led clean air initiative that imposes a £12.50-a-day charge on high-polluting vehicles.

On Tuesday, Michael Gove, the Leveling Secretary, announced the Government plans to give landlords “more leeway” over energy needs.

He told the BBC that ministers are “moving away from the strict deadline we have at the moment” which requires all private rental accommodation to achieve at least a “C” grade in their energy performance certificate, which has ratings ranging from A to G, by 2028.

Gove acknowledged that one of the most important ways to improve energy efficiency – installing a heat pump instead of a gas boiler – currently “has a cost”.

While the EPC system, which was introduced in 2007 as part of an EU directive, is credited in some circles with increasing energy efficiency, critics argue that the certificates do not represent an accurate assessment of a property’s energy efficiency.

Concerns have also been raised about the cost to landlords of upgrading their properties to meet the current energy efficiency target and how this could affect the supply of private rental housing.

“We remain true to our environmental goals, but we must not overtax landlords who are under pressure on the cost of living,” the official said. Ministers are expected to finalize further details after the summer.

British ministers also announced on Tuesday that they have postponed a new £1.7 billion-a-year recycling scheme until after the next general election after manufacturers warned it would increase already high food and drink prices.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said extended producer responsibility for the packaging system would be postponed “by a year” to 2025.

Originally, the EPR was supposed to come into force in 2024 and impose on companies the costs of collecting, sorting, recycling and disposing of packaging waste.

The delay in the EPR – which the FT reported last week was imminent – marks the government’s latest environmental policy to be put on hold. Others include a long-awaited biomass strategy, a relaxation of the planning regime for onshore wind farms and the introduction of a bottle deposit return scheme.

Environmental groups had expressed concern at the prospect of a delay, which retailers, manufacturers and food producers had been pushing for. They said the program would risk increasing household bills amid the cost-of-living crisis and welcomed the confirmation of the postponement.

Karen Betts, executive director of the Food and Drink Federation, called the move a “bold decision to go back to the drawing board.”

However, some companies in the packaging and waste management sectors have criticized the move. Adam Read, Suez’s chief external affairs and sustainability officer, warned that Britain’s indecisiveness poses “real challenges”.

“The current EPR framework presents a great opportunity for our industry to invest in new services and infrastructure. However, constant delays from the government prevent us from taking the next step,” said Read.

Lucas van der Schalk, chief executive of plastics group Corplex, said the gap between the EU and the UK approach to recycling is widening and that governments in EU countries have been able to “normalise a culture of reuse through effective deposit-return schemes”.

“It is beyond worrying that the Westminster government is falling so far behind other countries – with the public, businesses and the environment bearing the burden,” he said.

The Environment Department said work to implement the EPR “is ongoing” adding: “We continue to work closely with manufacturers, retailers and packers on the design and timelines.” Full details will be announced in due course.”


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