Cleaning up the policy puzzle on green construction

  

A patchwork of European regulations, directives and strategies aims at making homes and buildings more efficient, but the jury is still out on how well they work.

Adrian Joyce, an architect and advocate for energy efficiency in buildings, says Europe “urgently” needs to improve how it uses energy and called for accelerated improvements in old and new construction.

“Are we doing enough to meet the sustainability challenges – the answer is no,” said Joyce, who heads the European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings, or EuroACE.

Adrian Joyce, an architect and advocate for energy efficiency in buildings, says Europe “urgently” needs to improve how it uses energy and called for accelerated improvements in old and new construction.

“Are we doing enough to meet the sustainability challenges – the answer is no,” said Joyce, who heads the European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings, or EuroACE.

The European Commission estimates that buildings account for 40% of energy use and generate 36% of greenhouse gases, and making homes and businesses more efficient - and the energy that powers them more sustainable - are central goals of a number of EU laws and strategies.

The EU already has set out goals to cut energy demand for residential and commercial buildings by a minimum 80% by 2050 through better insulation and ecological design, and wants to reduce the environmental footprint of new construction by turning debris in building material.

But buildings – a major consumer of energy – change at a snail’s pace in Europe. Some 1.2% of buildings are renovated annually in the EU the rate of new construction is even lower – 1% - according to industry figures. Some nine in 10 structures standing today are likely to be around in 2050.

Without binding commitments, Europe will fail to meet its 2050 targets, Joyce recently told an EU-funded conference on sustainable construction in Amsterdam.

He also said that without obligatory conservation targets, Europe is missing an opportunity to use efficiency as the energy “mine” of the future. Austerity-driven governments that are cutting subsidies for renewable energy were making a mistake, he said.

The Brussels-based EuroAce is pressing for firm commitments on energy efficiency although binding targets in a proposed European Commission directive appear headed for the scrap heap.

Missed opportunities

But there may be other missed opportunities to reduce the environmental footprint of homes and commercial buildings while expanding renewable energy.

Oliver Rapf, who heads the Buildings Performance Institute Europe, says the EU’s regulatory framework on sustainable construction has had mixed results in part because of the volume of binding and nonbinding rules and standards and lack of compliance.

“It’s one of the big weaknesses that the compliance is not checked in a very effective way,” Rapf told EurActiv.

More integration of policies that now fall under a range of laws and targets on land use the efficiency of buildings – including the European Performance Building Directive, construction regulations and public procurement standards – could address some of the gaps in enforcement and implementation, Rapf said.

“What is clear is there is a need for one integrated policy framework so that all these pieces of the puzzle fit together in an integrated way,” Rapf told the conference on sustainable construction in Amsterdam.

Rapf’s organisation last year released a report showing that oil and natural gas remain the dominant sources of residential energy use in southern, northern and western Europe, while coal dominates in central and eastern Europe.

Officials say making homes – which account for 68% of total final energy use in buildings – more efficient could result in dramatic energy savings and reductions in greenhouse gases.

The report - Europe’s Buldings Under the Microscope - is calling for the establishment of an EU-wide fund to encourage rehabilitation and to establish binding requirements for renovation. It also calls for a realignment of the EU’s regulatory framework to make it more ambitious.

“There is a need to make significant efforts to transpose EU regulation and to implement it in a way that stimulates deep renovation of the building stock,” the report says.

Timeline: 
  • By end 2012: Negotiations on the EU's energy Efficiency Directive expected to wrap up
  • 2014: EU pledged to review progress towards energy efficiency 2020 targets and consider binding measures if it is too slow.
  • 2020: Deadline for EU states to meet voluntary obligation to reduce energy output by 20%, measured against 2005 levels.
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