Green, Green Grass of Home: A greener future for our homes

As we say hwyl fawr to COP26  we are very much still feeling the impacts of human-induced climate change. As Wales heads deeper into the winter months, many residents across the south Wales Valleys and Dyffryn Conwy  will be losing sleep again this winter worrying about their homes flooding – a symptom of the wider climate crisis. We must heed the warnings from our partners in countries such as Tuvalu, who are on the frontline of the rising sea levels right now.

If Simon Kofe’s speech isn’t enough of warning that humanity is on the precipice of a climate disaster then maybe this address to the UN calling for action will be enough of a rallying cry for the world.

Shelter Cymru believes there is a solution to both the climate and housing emergencies. People’s homes play a significant role in both combatting and causing poverty: although climate change is the greatest threat to mankind, it poses a unique opportunity to lift thousands of people out of poverty by eliminating fuel poverty. Research by the Future Generations Commissioner shows that people’s homes contributes 10 per cent of Wales’ carbon emissions and is one of the slowest sectors to decarbonise across the UK. We welcome the Welsh Government’s target to build 20,000 new low-carbon social homes and recognise the importance of building low-carbon homes to alleviate the climate and housing emergencies.

At Shelter Cymru, we also believe more needs to be done to improve the quality and energy efficiency of our current housing stock. Decarbonisation is a crucial opportunity we cannot afford to waste, especially when our research shows that people in Wales are twice more likely than the rest of Britain to say they lived with damp and mould. Additionally, our research has showed that over a quarter of a million people are already cutting spending on essentials, such as on food and heating to afford rent or mortgage payments.

This demonstrates that the 20,000 target is only part of the solution: arguably the bigger challenge lies in existing issues with the current housing stock. Housing in Wales tends to be older, more rural, and bigger than the rest of the UK, with most of Wales’ stock having been built before 1980. Research by the Bevan Foundation found that 55 per cent of properties that advertised their EPC rating were rated at either D or E, which suggests that most homes are expensive to heat. Therefore, the Welsh Government has taken action to distribute additional resources to work on decarbonising the existing stock, whilst fulfilling their commitment to build 20,000 new low carbon social homes. In social homes these twin pressures are particularly acute, with one priority potentially competing against the other for funds. Without enough recourse and capacity to fulfil both vital solutions, we run the risk of them both competing against each other and another missing both key opportunities.

The Welsh Government’s commitment to provide £150m for the Optimized Retrofit Programme in social homes is a welcomed announcement as it will help increase energy efficiency, tackle fuel poverty and cut energy bills. The Welsh Government has also announced the doubling of the social housing grant, which will help reduce waiting list and reduce demand on the private rented sector over the long-term. These policies are very welcomed and are much needed announcements, especially at a time where energy bills are on the up because of the global energy crisis.

We must also tackle our un-readiness to deal with the symptoms of climate change, especially as the Deputy Climate Change Minister warns that “the consequences of not acting will be profound for Wales”. Climate change will see sea levels rise by at least 1.3 – 2.6 feet by 2100. If we do not act now to mitigate the impacts of flooding and extreme weather events, we will further exacerbate existing inequalities, which will result in  distributions to our infrastructure and will  cause some of our coastal communities to  disappear forever by 2050.

We believe the time is right for the Welsh Government to incorporate the right to adequate housing into Welsh law, and provide basic assurances that their right to an adequate housing is protected in light of the worsening symptoms of climate change; especially when investing in flood defences and protection would have a benefit: cost ratio of more than 5:1. Other measures can be explored by both the UK and Welsh Government, such as improving water efficacy measures and heart alert and heatwave planning, which both have a benefit: cost ratio of more than 10:1. These basic assurances could be guaranteed by investing in flood defences and introducing new building regulations for developers mandating mitigating measures for flooding. These relatively simple assurances will be crucial as we move into an increasingly uncertain future.

Shelter Cymru believes that home is everything and that everyone deserves a good home. Unless our current and new homes can withstand the pressures of extreme weather events, our shared housing emergency will only become further entrenched by climate change.