A home for all within planetary boundaries: Pathways for meeting England’s housing needs without transgressing national climate and biodiversity goals
Secure housing is core to the Sustainable Development Goals and a fundamental human right. However, potential conflicts between housing and sustainability objectives remain under-researched.
We explore the impact of current English government housing policy, and alternative housing strategies, on national carbon and biodiversity goals.
Using material flow and land use change/biodiversity models, we estimate from 2022 to 2050 under current policy housing alone would consume 104% of England’s cumulative carbon budget (2.6/2.5Gt [50% chance of < 1.5 °C]); 12% from the construction and operation of newbuilds and 92% from the existing stock.
Housing expansion also potentially conflicts with England’s biodiversity targets. However, meeting greater housing need without rapid housing expansion is theoretically possible.
We review solutions including improving affordability by reducing demand for homes as financial assets, macroprudential policy, expanding social housing, and reducing underutilisation of floor-space. Transitioning to housing strategies which slow housing expansion and accelerate low-carbon retrofits would achieve lower emissions, but we show that they face an unfavourable political economy and structural economic barriers.
– The primary government response to England’s housing affordability crisis is to build 300,000 new homes per year
– Using embodied and operational emissions models we estimate the government’s business-as-usual housing strategy consumes England’s whole cumulative carbon budget [1.5°C] by 2050
– Other strategies for meeting society’s housing needs are theoretically possible, but they face a challenging political economy
– ‘Growth-dependencies’ in the housing sector mean social welfare risks declining if house prices and construction rates fall
– Solutions include decarbonising the existing housing stock through rapid retrofitting, and policies disincentivising the overconsumption of floorspace
Further information and links:
University of Kent
Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity
Photo credit: Blake Wheeler