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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Barriers to and levers for the alignment of UK heat decarbonisation policy with national targets: An exploration of domestic retrofit policy, 2008-2022 and beyond

It is well established that the retrofit of the United Kingdom’s (UK) residential building stock, totalling 28 million homes and accounting for 17% of national emissions, is a critical component of achieving the UK’s legally binding national decarbonisation targets. However, in contrast to growing calls for retrofit action, the progress achieved by retrofit policy over the last decade has been slow. This research investigates barriers and opportunities to delivering a holistic policy mix capable of driving equitable decarbonisation in this sector, taking a novel approach via the integration of considerations of policy effectiveness at the policy mix, design and implementation (D&I), and institutional levels.

This research is informed by a desktop review of academic and grey literature, as well as nine semi-structured interviews with government officials, advisory figures, and industry representatives. In line with a grounded theory approach, interviews were analysed via a process of coding, and iteratively compared with policy documents and wider literature. In addition, the evolution of the retrofit policy landscape (2008 to present) is characterised, to contextualise research findings. At the D&I, level the key barrier is the dominance of top-down policy making practices, resulting in programme features and implementation timelines being driven by fiscal constraints and political will rather than feasibility. With respect to institutional structures, there is a fundamental tension between the demand for a strategic long-term policy agenda, and the short-term reach of decision-making at a high-level. Combined with this split policy responsibilities and priorities between governmental departments make co-ordination and accountability for delivery challenging.

At the individual programme level, extending standing programme commitments and the introduction of financially self-sustaining policies is recommended. While at an institutional level, priority interventions include securing publicised cross-party support, making key policy decisions binding, and the creation of a delivery body with the mandate and authority to co-ordinate an evolving policy mix. While these interventions are significant and actionable, deeper change is likely required to sustain or better optimise the transition, including revisions to policy-making protocol and the strengthening of arms-length or advisory institutions. Interventions identified are non-exhaustive and high level, making deeper engagement with a broader range of government, industry, and research stakeholders a key area of further work.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.