While COVID-19 has been uppermost in our minds and lives for well over a year, climate change has not gone away. Indeed, it has continued apace, becoming ever more visible as our attention has been focused on fighting something much less visible and, in the long-run, potentially less threatening. Even though it may not feel like that now.
The scale of the crisis and the challenge is formidable, more so than anything else we have had to deal with in our lifetimes. And such that the Scottish Government has formally declared a climate emergency and has committed to a range of world-leading targets.
In March 2021, the Zero Emissions Social Housing Taskforce (ZEST) was convened by the then Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning. Our task could not be more timely or challenging. As Co-Chairs, we were asked to look at the opportunities, barriers and solutions required of social housing to maximise its contribution to the Scottish Government’s ambitious climate change targets. Where there is reference to social housing/social landlords in this report it includes housing associations, co-operatives and local authorities.
The Scottish Government’s recently published twenty-year vision for housing, Housing to 2040, sets out the commitment to adapt and retrofit existing homes to improve their energy efficiency and decarbonise their heating, highlighting housing’s contribution to ending climate change emissions. The draft Heat in Buildings Strategy also set out a consistent vision for zero emissions homes and near-term actions that can be taken to help drive forward progress. And not least it sets out the need to decarbonise one million homes by 2030, highlighting the scale of our collective ambition. This needs to be achieved alongside our continuing efforts to tackle fuel poverty, keeping rents affordable and promoting equality.
At the same time, social landlords have been making huge strides in planning for, designing and delivering homes that are more energy efficient as well as those that are net zero carbon. This is providing valuable, real-time learning about what works, what doesn’t, and how we can do better.
The role of ZEST has been to take the various plans and strategies, learn from what’s happening on the ground, anticipate what’s needed and turn it all into a programme of coherent, realistic and achievable actions. Our work has been fast-paced, energetic and focused, made possible by the commitment, knowledge and experience of every member of the group, which included policy, technical, practitioner and academic expertise (and who are duly credited at the back of the report). And with the added value of further experts contributing to the discussions on particular issues.
Social housing is a sector built on shared values of fairness and equality. This, together with enthusiasm, passion and a ‘can do’ attitude, means this report is rooted in a desire to provide the very best outcomes for social housing tenants and their communities. It is predicated on no one being left behind, with costs they can’t afford, heating systems that don’t work for them or are not as good as for others. We are committed to a just economic, social and technical transition.
The recommendations are intended to provide the next steps for the sector, in partnership with local and national government, the private and third sectors, wider civic society and, most importantly, those who live in social housing now and those yet to come. No single organisation, profession or community has, or ever can have, all the answers; the way forward has to be finding those answers together.
Climate change is perhaps the defining issue of our generation and those to come. This report is an initial calling card from the social housing sector demonstrating the scale and scope of its dedication to tackling climate change through a shared commitment to tackling the technical, financial, social and environmental challenges.
We commend this report and the actions to Scottish Ministers and look forward to working together to bring about the changes needed to secure a world free from the negative effects of climate change.
It’s always impossible, until it’s done.
Sally Thomas and Aubrey Fawcett
Co-Chairs, Zero Emissions Social Housing Taskforce