‘Complete overhaul’ of buildings needed to meet EU’s 2030 climate goal

The Commission wants a 2% renovation rate by 2030 to help meet climate targets [MichaelGaida / Pixabay]

Europe needs a “complete overhaul” of its buildings to meet a higher 2030 emissions reduction target, according to new research published today (3 December).

In its flagship building renovation wave, the European Commission announced it wanted to double the rate of energy-related building renovation by 2030, which currently stands at 1%.

This is insufficient to meet the EU’s updated 2030 climate goals, according to a new report by the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), which says the renovation target should hit at least 3% annually to avoid having to renovate a huge amount of buildings in the 2030s and 2040s.

“It’s not going to be an easy task,” said Oliver Rapf, executive director at the BPIE. “At the moment, we’re at 0.2% deep renovation rate or at 1% if you take all renovations into account. So the challenge is enormous, but we also know, looking at other sectors and how quickly they have gone through a transformation, it is possible”.

The new research is being published ahead of an EU summit next week where European leaders will aim to agree new climate goals for 2030.

The European Commission has proposed plans to target a 55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 1990 levels, up from a current target of 40%.

To achieve this, the EU must reduce buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions by 60%, their energy consumption by 14%, and the energy consumption of heating and cooling by 18%, the EU executive said.

EU launches 'renovation wave' for greener, more stylish buildings

The European Commission launched a renovation wave and a “new European Bauhaus” on Wednesday (14 October), aiming to rally popular support behind plans to cut emissions from buildings and reduce energy bills.

But the Commission’s building renovation wave is insufficient to reach that target, BPIE says. “Reaching a more ambitious 2030 climate target requires a complete overhaul of current renovation practices,” said Rapf.

“Doubling the overall energy renovation rate is insufficient. Europe needs to reach at least a 3% deep renovation rate, combined with a push for renewable heating and cooling of our buildings” to meet the Commission’s proposed 55% climate target for 2030, he added.

This renovation should go hand in hand with renewable energy generation, curbing the number of EU buildings currently heated by fossil fuels, with renewables delivering 53% of the final energy mix. BPIE’s policy scenario would provide a 24.8% reduction in final energy demand for heating and cooling by 2030 compared to 2015, more than in the Commission’s projections.

Three quarters of Europe’s buildings are considered inefficient, with buildings responsible for more than a third of the EU’s CO2 emissions.

Building renovation and energy efficiency has been something the EU has consistently failed on, with the EU expected to miss its 2020 target for energy efficiency and current national energy and climate plans failing to be ambitious enough on efficiency.

The analysis highlights that minimum energy performance standards, better financial incentives that reward switching to cleaner technology and better alignment of legislation and requirements between efficiency and renewable energy measures in the building sector are key to speeding up decarbonisation.

People need to be part of the journey and Rapf suggests building renovation passports to explain what is needed to renovate and how much this would cost.

EU countries urged to build on Renovation Wave to fix failing efficiency targets

Twenty-five of the EU’s 27 member countries have been told to boost provisions for building renovation in their national energy and climate plans in order to meet the bloc’s elusive efficiency targets.

Ball is in member states’ court

The EU’s energy efficiency directive currently requires member states to renovate buildings owned and occupied by central governments at a rate of 3%, but this is broadly not the case and needs to be expanded to schools and hospitals, according to Rapf.

Member states were due to submit long term renovations plans in March 2020, but only 15 are available on the Commission’s website.

Governments have been encouraged to tap into the EU’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund to fund renovation programmes in their own countries.

Previous research has found public funding of €90 billion annually would trigger private investments worth €3-5 for every €1 invested into building renovation.

“The ball is in the court of the member states,” said Rapf. “If the member states are not taking this issue seriously and are not making sure that the recovery and resilience facility is used to give renovation a boost, then they’re missing a very big opportunity.”

To reach the EU’s higher climate goal, new buildings must be nearly zero-energy, with no new fossil fuel heating systems, while existing buildings should switch to renewable energy alongside deep renovation, BPIE says.

“If today you put in a new fossil fuel-powered device, these boilers normally have a lifetime between 15 and 20 years, which means you’re locking yourself into a carbon path of 15 to 20 years while we know we have other technologies that are working with renewables,” said Rapf.

Dublin MEP pushes 'neighbourhood' approach to building renovation

Ciarán Cuffe, a former Irish minister now turned MEP, has urged the European Commission to take a locally integrated approach to building efficiency, saying it will be “critical” to the success of the upcoming renovation wave announced as part of the European Green Deal.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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