How could Wales heat and build low-carbon homes by 2035?

Achieving net zero in Wales requires drastic reductions in emissions from new and existing buildings. Decarbonisation of domestic heating has a critical role to play in cutting emissions from buildings, as reflected in the Welsh Government’s draft Heat Strategy for Wales, with a pathway to deliver clean and affordable heat by 2050.

The Welsh Government, as part of its Co-operation Agreement with Plaid Cymru, has also formed the Wales Net Zero 2035 Challenge Group, chaired by former Minister Jane Davidson, as part of the commitment to ‘commission independent advice to examine potential pathways to net zero by 2035.’

The Wales Centre for Public Policy (WCPP) has been given funding by the Welsh Government to provide independent evidence support to the Challenge Group. These outputs form our submission towards the Group’s third challenge area, ‘How could Wales heat and build homes and workplaces by 2035?’

Emissions from residential buildings are currently not falling fast enough to meet net zero targets, reflecting the slow uptake of heat pumps and energy efficiency retrofit measures. Meeting the existing net zero target of 2050 will require quick deployment of these measures at scale, with the gap only widening if the target date is brought forward to 2035. Therefore, achieving net zero in 2035 would require policy innovation at an ambitious scale to increase uptake.

This task is made increasingly complicated when considering the older Welsh building stock compared to the UK, and the large number of buildings in Wales considered hard to decarbonise. However, despite the scale of this challenge, the decarbonisation of buildings also presents opportunities to achieve multiple policy goals. As well as reductions in emissions, introducing cleaner and cheaper heating in homes has the potential to reduce fuel poverty, improve health, support local supply chains and provide many jobs.

Our background paper, ‘How could Wales heat and build low-carbon homes by 2035?’ examines the scale of the challenge and key considerations for reducing emissions from existing and new buildings.

We have also published eight case studies of international retrofit schemes, drawing implications for retrofit policy in Wales. While there are lessons to be learned from the progress made by some other countries, we find that the action needed to decarbonise residential buildings in Wales must now be implemented at what looks like a pace and scale not seen before in Wales to even meet a 2050 net zero target. Given that other countries are also looking to decarbonise buildings at pace to reach net zero, it appears that policy innovation in retrofit is outpacing the ability of the research base to provide timely insights into what works in different contexts.