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Time to close the gap between climate pledges and results

Time to close the gap between climate pledges and results

As the COP26 draws to a close in Glasgow, it is clear that climate action will succeed or fail based on what countries actually deliver, rather than what they promise.

Since the EU led the way, the United States, China and other major economies have pledged to achieve net zero emissions, mostly by 2050. But although this is the gold standard of climate commitments, it is not yet having a noticeable impact on emissions.

Quite the contrary. Greenhouse gas concentrations reached a record high last year, and increased faster than their average annual growth rate over the past decade.

What this suggests is that the political and public will to act is outrunning the capacity to implement climate objectives. This is especially true in the buildings sector. Buildings are both the world’s most valuable financial asset, worth over €150 trillion, and the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

They account for 36 percent of emissions in the EU, 40 percent in the United States and 42 percent in the UK. And yet building renovation rates remain low, at around one percent a year in the EU. At this rate it will take one hundred years to green our buildings – hardly an option, with the clock ticking on climate change.

You could carve the message in stone: to succeed on climate action, we need energy efficient buildings.

So how do we get results in time to make a difference? This is the question we have been looking into in a new report with Cambridge Econometrics, a go-to consultancy for the European Commission.

We found that money is not the problem. While there will always be a debate about the costs of climate action – and hopefully also about the costs of inaction – the fact is there is plenty of money available for building renovations and other green investments. The issue is connecting the funding sources with the on-the-ground projects.

This is why the Cambridge Econometrics report urges policymakers to prioritise boring-but-essential planning and logistics. Success this decade hinges on developing the long-term renovation programmes that manufacturers need to plan production capacity and properly train more installers; teaming up with banks to combine public grants and low-interest loans; and setting up more ‘one stop shops’ to help households apply for subsidies and find qualified workers.

None of these measures are especially headline-grabbing, but they can be game-changing if they are scaled up. And that is what people want.

Supplementing this report, we commissioned public opinion polling in seven countries – Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States to better gauge public demand and understanding regarding energy efficient homes and buildings.

The responses were overwhelmingly positive. Overall, 79 percent of respondents said they would renovate their homes if they had the support. And 73 percent say they would support mandatory energy performance standards for buildings, given the right enabling conditions. However, only 44 percent said they felt reasonably knowledgeable about planning the renovation work and requesting subsidies.

In short, there is a strong popular interest and support for making our homes and buildings more energy efficient, but it is not enough just to pass legislation and allocate funds.

In Brussels, for example, there is a hugely useful free public service called Homegrade. It helps people plan their renovations, find properly qualified workers, and navigate the incentive schemes. But it doesn’t advertise and not enough people know about it.

This is the sort of hands-on support that leaders meeting in Glasgow need to focus on improving. Time is everything. Yes, many important points are being discussed at the COP26. But long-term pledges are for nothing if emissions continue to increase.

What counts is the practical building renovation solutions which countries put in place over the next twelve months, before the next COP. Do that, show real results in the next few years, and we can put climate commitments and real-world climate results on the same trajectory.

By Jens Birgersson, President and CEO, ROCKWOOL Group

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