Rebuilding Europe: Deep energy renovation should be the heart of EU economic recovery

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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We are just beginning to rebuild Europe after a period of unprecedented economic, social and personal turmoil. With this spirit of renaissance in our hearts, there has never been a better time to rethink and renovate the buildings that shelter us. Creating a renovation wave in Europe now is key to any economic recovery and will be central to getting the EU back on its feet.

Presenting proposals for a Recovery Package and revised EU budget to address the immediate economic and social damage brought by coronavirus, the European Commission said this was Europe’s moment. EU spending must be rethought in order to “repair and prepare for the next generation,” the Commission said.

This is the mindset we need for the coming weeks, months and years. Repair and prepare. Renovate. Make buildings fit for the future and the challenges it will hold: including climate change and energy poverty, along with the need for a healthy indoor environment, made only too clear by the long days spent at home to reduce the spread of the virus.

As Chairman of Eurima, the European Insulation Manufacturers Association, I was glad to hear the Commission state that investing in a large-scale renovation wave “has enormous potential to get Europe’s economy growing,” as part of the economic recovery package.

EU leaders are due to hold high level talks about the proposal at a summit meeting (online, of course) later this week. I hope they will take the opportunity to acknowledge this renovation potential.

Renovating buildings has the potential to positively impact every EU inhabitant and business. It supports local jobs and develops competitive EU business practices. Buildings including hospitals, schools, and houses, which have been pushed to the front of our minds by recent events, all need to be built or renovated to the highest energy-efficiency, health and comfort standards.

Together with my colleagues in the sustainable building sector, we were sorry not to see any clear renovation fund so far set out in proposals for economic recovery. Dedicating money to help the 50 million EU citizens who live in leaky houses that they cannot afford to heat or cool properly must now be a priority for the detailed Renovation Wave proposals the Commission has scheduled for September.

Europe must make financing quickly and easily available to deeply renovate some millions of the unhealthiest buildings across Europe over the next two years. That also means swiftly agreeing a supportive and coherent regulatory environment, one that enables coordinated national actions and clear data on buildings and renovation rates and costs.

Deep renovation can steer Europe towards a more sustainable and resilient economy. Introducing minimum energy performance standards is needed to help the EU hit both a renovation target of 3 percent per year while, at the same time, delivering its 2050 Climate Neutrality target.

It remains true that we need to keep flexibility in our renovation policies: there is no “one size fits all” template for every building and strategies need to be adapted at the local level. But agreeing now on specific, implementable, straight forward EU action can help us to avoid losing momentum while arguing about who does what.

This means setting milestones for different sectors of the existing building stock, in order to encourage market players and investors to support a highly energy-efficient and decarbonised building stock by 2050. At the same time, we need to agree on specific measures for the sectors where demand can be increased more quickly, such as public buildings – and in particular hospitals, schools and affordable housing.

Eurima, as part of the Renovate Europe Campaign, has set out the case for the creation of a Renovation Fund for all Europeans to address inequalities in building stock and ensure that energy renovation of buildings plays a central role in getting Europe back on its feet Eurima has also published guidelines setting out the case for an EU-level scheme for minimum energy performance standards for existing buildings and explaining why they should become the cornerstone of an EU Renovation Wave.

Creating a renovation wave in Europe is key to any future economic recovery package, not only for the current generation but also for future generations. Expectations are high and needs are great, but the solutions are there. As we begin to tentatively move out this unprecedented health crisis, let redesign and renovation lead us to a brighter future.

Pascal Eveillard is the Director for Sustainable Construction of the Saint-Gobain Group, and the Chairman of Eurima, the European Insulation Manufacturers Association.

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