U.K.’s Johnson Seeks New Green Homes Strategy After Policy Stalls

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is working on a major overhaul of one of his government’s most important climate change policies after it failed to deliver, people familiar with the matter said.

With a budget of 2 billion pounds ($2.8 billion), the Green Homes Grant program launched in September to provide vouchers for homeowners to help pay for insulating their properties and switch to low carbon heating. But ministers and officials have become frustrated with the slow roll out of the work, partly blaming the pandemic, and funding has been cut.

Johnson is now in talks with finance minister Rishi Sunak over what comes next. The Treasury is seeking to redirect funds elsewhere, while the premier wants to design a successor program, according to the people, who spoke anonymously because discussions are ongoing.

A broader government strategy for curbing carbon emissions in heating and buildings has also been delayed, the people said. The government had been planning to publish its heat and buildings blueprint by the end of March but officials now do not expect it to be released before May.

“The Green Homes Grant Voucher scheme was designed to provide a short-term economic stimulus while tackling our contribution to climate change,” a government spokesperson said in a statement. “The prevalence of Covid-19 since the scheme’s launch in September last year has led to an understandable reluctance on the part of the public to welcome tradespeople into their homes.”

These issues are politically sensitive for Johnson, with the U.K. chairing the United Nations climate talks this year and seeking to show global leadership on initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Britain has committed to net zero by 2050 and wants to persuade other countries to back ambitions climate targets ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November.

In November, Johnson told a summit of world leaders that the U.K. “will never be lagging in lagging,” referring to the British term for insulation. But the government has struggled to find ways to convince homeowners to insulate their properties for years.

It’s the second time the government has struggled to make a success of a domestic home-insulation program. In 2015, ministers abandoned the Green Deal, which attached the cost of loan repayments onto a property after a low take-up.

With these pressures in mind, Johnson and his Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng are said to be pushing Sunak to commit to longer-term funding for a domestic insulation program. No final decisions have been taken.

Green Homes Grant vouchers can be used for loft and wall insulation and low-carbon heating systems like heat pumps. Buildings account for a third of greenhouse gases in the U.K. so sealing up drafty homes is key to the U.K.’s effort to meet its climate goals.

Officials had hoped the grants would help upgrade 600,000 homes and support more than 100,000 jobs as part of a government plan to stimulate the economic recovery from the pandemic.

However, with resurgent coronavirus infections sending the country back into lockdown twice since the program was launched, the policy has stalled.

More than 27,000 vouchers worth 115 million pounds have been issued and even with a further 320 million pounds earmarked for the program in the next financial year, that’s still more than 1.5 billion pounds short of the allocated budget.

“The Green Homes Grant, while being hampered by administrative problems, has demonstrated real public demand for energy efficiency measures now,” said Caroline Bragg, head of policy at the Association for Decentralized Energy. “The supply chain needs the opportunity to demonstrate how quickly it can scale and deliver measures to meet that public demand.”

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