Building for a new Europe

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

Stakeholder Opinion

By MEP Pernille Weiss (EPP, DK) and Katarzyna Wardal (energy & climate convener at Eurima – the European Insulation Manufacturers Association)

Buildings use more energy than anything else in the EU. Our building stock is simply not energy efficient.  Despite some national efforts, we are still struggling to drive renovation up to the level needed to make a difference in the fight against climate change.

The existing building stock in Europe is not sustainable. We need to modernise the worst energy performing of our buildings. That means we need minimum energy performance standards, set in law and progressively tightened, for homes, schools, hospitals, factories and offices around the EU bloc. We need to build a new Europe.

Buildings are responsible for some 40 percent of energy consumption and 36 percent of CO2 emissions in the EU. Governments have agreed to make Europe carbon neutral by 2050 – but this is an impossible dream unless we start renovating now.

We expect a Renovation Wave strategy from the European Commission soon, to address huge shortcomings in buildings’ renovations around the EU. If we get this right, it will give a huge boost to Europe’s industries – at a time when unemployment is set to soar, during and following the Coronavirus pandemic. Renovating 210 million existing buildings could create several millions new construction and renovation jobs in the EU.

The construction sector today accounts for about 9 percent of EU GDP and should be an important part of a recovery strategy after the Coronavirus crisis. We should even start to introduce energy efficiency measures in the economic agreements we do with each other. Denmark, as one of the ‘Frugal Four,’ could have used its veto to put forward measures for renovation in the coronavirus recovery package. The EU and national governments need to show the relationship between climate change, jobs and health, as we recover from the pandemic.

Most of the buildings we use today in Europe will stall be standing in 2050. Less than 1 percent of these buildings are renovated every year. To get carbon emissions down in line with our 2050 targets, this must increase to at least 3 percent.

This month a coalition of construction industry groups, think tanks and environmental NGOs wrote to the commission, to say that minimum energy performance standards are needed to fill an EU policy gap and make the Renovation Wave a success. We too believe that only by working together for a common, legally binding EU position on buildings’ energy use can we get where we need to go.

Renovation is an opportunity to use existing buildings as a showroom for EU technologies. The European Parliament report on maximising the energy efficiency potential of the EU building stock that was adopted in September this year helps to promote the idea that we should develop a “climate calculator.” This would help our industries calculate the carbon reduction contribution of a technology as easily as possible. This can then even help to promote CO2 reductions outside the EU, by showing off technologies that work well.

Several countries around the EU and beyond have already introduced some form of minimum energy performance standards. The names vary from country to country, but the UK, France, the Netherlands and Belgium are all showing that it is possible to promote efficient buildings. In the Netherlands, for example, energy performance standards have been introduced for offices, social housing and private rented homes. This has resulted in positive market dynamics with private banks supporting their clients to renovate and a very large growth of office buildings with an energy label A.

Minimum energy performance standards are a flexible policy. They can be and are used in line with different national priorities. In all cases the rules aim to drive down the energy used by buildings, and the greenhouse gases their use creates.

Unfortunately, even in countries that have the rules in place we are not seeing a huge increase in renovation rates. We need to pool all our national experience and make it easier to share good practice across borders, as part of Europe’s digital transition. New, innovative technologies will make it easier to accelerate the momentum for clean, good quality and deep renovation across Europe.

Following the unprecedented changes to our daily lives seen in 2020, we all know we might need to use our homes in a different way in the future. The divining lines between home, school, office and hospital are no longer as rigid as we all once thought. Today, Europeans have a chance to build cleaner, safer, more welcoming buildings of the future.

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