We need a building ‘renovation wave’ to ensure EU carbon neutrality by 2050

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
We need a building ‘renovation wave’ to ensure EU carbon neutrality by 2050

Improving energy efficiency is the low-hanging fruit on the tree of climate action. Where better to start than with the buildings that we spend so much of our time in, particularly in these times of COVID19?

Buildings generate more than one third of our greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union, and a Renovation Wave can reduce emissions, lower energy bills, provide jobs and tackle poverty. With low interest rates, investment in energy efficiency can be a real win-win for Europe.

As two Members of the European Parliament who are very much concerned about climate policy, we share similar green hopes and ambitions; that our actions in relation to energy efficiency can help to reduce the damage caused to our economy by COVID19 without slowing down the speed of the green transition. Perhaps this stems from our previous professional experiences as an architect (Ciarán Cuffe) and as a nurse with a master’s degree in health and architecture (Pernille Weiss).

We are confident that this week, the Plenary will vote in favour of the report we have both been working on during the intense first couple of months during the COVID19 lockdown. The title says it all: ‘Maximising the energy efficiency potential of the EU building stock’. The report outlines the European Parliament’s position ahead of the European Commission’s publication of the ‘Renovation Wave Strategy’; a central building block to ‘The European Green Deal’.

Energy Efficiency is essential in reducing our energy consumption rates and hence energy bills; we know that our building emit 36% of EU total CO2 emission; while 75% of buildings in Europe are energy inefficient and only 0.4-1.2% of them undergo deep of renovation per year. It is obvious that the potential to improve is huge.

If we trigger a real renovation wave, it will lead to a multitude of other benefits: Investing €1 million in this sector creates up to 19 new jobs, largely in SMEs; no other initiative in the green sector has this effect on employment. This argument alone should be at the fore of our discussions on potential of the COVID-19 recovery.

Furthermore, scaling up renovations to the level needed to achieve an 80% reduction in energy waste can create an additional 1.3 – 1.4 million direct local jobs, according to calculations by the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE). These are astonishing numbers!

Now, more than ever, citizens require and deserve a healthy and safe place to call home. Investing in energy efficiency will deliver quality homes with lower energy bills. Furthermore, it is going to improve the health of our communities and reduce our contribution to climate change.

Energy poverty affects millions of Europeans each year; 40 million Europeans cannot keep their home adequately warm in the winter, while 98 million Europeans cannot keep their home adequately cool in the summer. Targeted investment in worst performing buildings, especially on the rental market will assist people in vulnerable situations and those in energy poverty.

New skills will benefit the renovation wave. This is an opportunity for much-needed local employment in regions and districts undergoing just transition. A European Skills Agenda is required and should include a dedicated gender dimension to reap its full benefits. It should also combine existing funds with new possibilities under recovery packages and the Just Transition Fund.

In addition, we believe that simplified standards and clearer regulatory measures must be introduced across Member States. Minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) are essential to Europe’s decarbonisation efforts. They have proven successful in the Netherlands, UK, and Belgium and progressively tightened standards set out the pathway to 2050 climate neutrality in the building sector.

If introduced at trigger points such as leasing or sale, they set a trajectory for the transition of each building segment over time, and enable policymakers to plan accompanying measures, technical assistance and financial support.

The upcoming strategy must therefore set the right ambition level and list the necessary legislative and financial actions, so as not to remain a drop in the ocean. The Parliament report reflects this ambition: In many ways, one could even go as far to say that ‘Maximising the energy efficiency of the EU building stock’ could be a byword for: ‘The way to health, jobs and the green transition through maximised building energy efficiency.”

Ciarán Cuffe, Greens/EFA and Pernille Weiss, EPP

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