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Long-heralded plans to end the sale of new gas boilers by 2035 are set to be confirmed when Boris Johnson launches strategies for net-zero emissions and heat and buildings at the start of next week, just a fortnight before he chairs the United Nations COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow.
The boiler upgrade scheme will also include a £5,000 grant for householders who switch early to heat pump systems to warm their homes in a more green way.
But campaigners warned that the cash on offer will not be enough to fund the installation of new-style heating systems which cost around £6-8,000 per home for air source pumps or £10-18,000 to extract heat from the ground.
Friends of the Earth head of science, policy and research Mike Childs told The Independent that grants on this scale would provide incentives only for well-off households.
“Heat pumps have to be affordable for every household to install and run and a £5,000 grant doesn’t cut the mustard,” said Mr Childs. “In time costs will come down of course, but the government needs to bridge the gap more.
“If we are going to get ahead on climate change, we have to upgrade and update home heating and switch to heat pumps which are a smart and simple tech - a bit like a reverse fridge because they take heat naturally stored in the air or ground, compress it and pump it into homes.”
He added: “This scheme has huge potential but only if accompanied by grants for home insulation, and a training programme to skill-up thousands of young people to be heat pump engineers. The climate friendly jobs aspect of a massive programme to replaces boilers that burn gas means it’s well worth government investing properly now.”
Despite widespread support for measures to combat climate change, recent surveys suggest that as few as 6 per cent of consumers have installed low-carbon central heating systems - such as pumps, hydrogen-fuelled boilers and heating networks - in their homes.
First promised in July, the heat and buildings strategy has been delayed by wrangles with Tory MPs sceptical of the cost to consumers of making the change.
Government sources said that the 2035 date for ending the sale of new gas boilers had been chosen to reassure consumers that no-one will be forced to tear out heating systems from their homes.
Ministers believe the 14-year run-in time to the ban will grant householders and landlords an incentive to opt for green alternatives when they next upgrade boilers, rather than facing an expensive decision to bring work forward. And even after 2035, existing gas boilers will be permitted to remain until they reach the end of their lives.
Unveiling the plans on Monday or Tuesday next week, Mr Johnson will say that he wants to incentivise householders to make the change to green heating as part of his pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
And, with gas prices currently spiking to unprecedented levels, he will say that the switch will reduce UK exposure to price instability on fossil fuels imported from abroad.
But Greenpeace UK head of climate Kate Blagojevic said the government’s plans did not go far enough.
“While £5,000 grants and a 2035 boiler phase-out date are a decent start, they aren’t ambitious enough to adequately tackle emissions from homes or support low income households to switch,” said Ms Blagojevic.
“What’s also missing from these reports is any mention of a programme to insulate the UK’s millions of draughty homes.
“Low-carbon heating must go hand in hand with improving energy efficiency. You can’t have one without the other.
“Then it’s up to the chancellor to deliver the required £12bn a year in his Spending Review to make cutting emissions from homes a reality.
“Without these other key elements, the strategy will be like a builder who comes without his tools and simply won’t be up the job.”