Europeans spend almost all their time in buildings. For many of us, that means up to 90% of the day is passed in offices and schools, in hospitals and shops, and at home, writes Jan te Bos.
Jan te Bos is the director general of Eurima, the European insulation manufacturers’ association.
Buildings account for more than 40% of the EU’s energy bill and are responsible for over a third of European carbon-dioxide emissions.
Still, we tend to see cutting greenhouse-gas emissions mainly as the responsibility of big factories and power companies.
This needs to change. To avoid a dangerous escalation in global temperatures, we need buildings to help Europe reach net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. “Net zero” means all greenhouse-gas emissions have to be reduced and offset completely, making activities carbon neutral.
A new study by clean-energy consultancy ClimAct for Eurima examines different possible scenarios for bringing emissions down to net zero. The study concludes that, without renovation of the building stock, there is no way of reaching carbon neutrality before 2050.
For the EU to reach net zero, 3% of buildings need to be renovated every year, up from just 1% today. It’s essential for buildings to deliver their share of energy and greenhouse-gas reductions. Europe can do this, but sustained efforts and a real engagement are needed from decision makers.
The EU is now drafting a long-term climate-change policy, to take the bloc up to mid-century without allowing temperatures to creep any closer to dangerous levels.
This EU policy will support the breakthrough international climate treaty, agreed in Paris in 2015, at which 196 national representatives said they would work to keep the increase in global average temperatures “well below” 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.
The latest report from UN scientists this year warns that the target should be reduced to 1.5 degrees, to avoid the most dangerous effects of global warming. This scientific recommendation will be discussed by world leaders at a major UN climate conference, to be held in Katowice, Poland from 3 December.
For buildings, we have just one shot at getting things right before 2050. Given their expected lifetime, buildings are only likely to be renovated once, between now and 2050. To make these renovations count, we need to look at the whole of the building. This means an energy-efficient “envelope” – the roofs, walls, floors and windows making up buildings – with properly planned heating and cooling systems, and an effective integration of renewable energy systems and technologies.
The benefits of getting this right far outweigh the costs, for society as a whole, national and local governments and citizens. The monetary benefits of energy-efficient buildings have been estimated to be two to three times greater than the investment needed – and that is before even calculating the avoided costs of climate change and the jump in health, comfort and well-being @home!
There are many more socio-economic reasons that speak in favour of ambitious building renovation than for any other scenario. Choices will have to be made and renovation strategies to be developed, allowing for inclusive processes that acknowledge energy renovation as a societal imperative and investment without making it an impossible financial burden for citizens! Help me, don’t tell me!
The alternative – not acting – is far more daunting. And the ClimAct study shows solutions that are already commercially available can take us 75% of the way to net zero, if deployed at scale. The remaining 25% can be achieved based on known approaches and technologies, if efforts to scale up and commercialise are made.
If the right steps to promote renovation and energy-efficient buildings are made today, we can look forward to a low-emission future. Policymakers searching for ways to start should remember that there’s no place like home.
The report can be found here.