EU renovation wave needs ‘major changes’ to be successful

The growing phenomenon of labourers coming into Europe from south–east Asia and elsewhere is fuelling a dangerous rise in exploitative labour practices that requires urgent EU action, labour unions and civil society groups have warned. [Lisa-S/ Shutterstock]

“Major changes” are needed to ensure the decarbonisation of buildings in the EU if the bloc is to make a success of its energy transition and comply with the Paris Agreement, the European Academies’ Scientific Advisory Council (EASAC) said in a report published on Wednesday (2 June). EURACTIV France reports.

In its report, the EASAC warned that it is no longer enough to build more eco-friendly buildings, but that existing structures must also be renovated. According to the European Commission, buildings are responsible for 36% of the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions.

However, of the highly polluting buildings already constructed across the bloc, only between 1% and 1.5% are being renovated each year.

“To meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, this rate would have to be two or even three times higher,” said William Gillett, director of EASAC’s energy programme.

In October of last year, the European Commission published its road map for a “Renovation Wave for Europe”, which aims for the renovation of 35 million buildings by 2030. The renovation wave is part of the EU’s Green Deal, which has set the target of making the bloc climate-neutral by 2050.

While EASAC’s researchers are mainly addressing EU lawmakers, they have also highlighted the role of local authorities in addressing the matter. “City councils and planners can stimulate the renovation and construction of near-zero GHG emission neighbourhoods with integrated energy and transport systems and adequate green spaces,” they said.

The report also points to the Near Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) – an indicator that focuses on reducing the energy used to keep occupants comfortable – is outdated.

“The indicator to be used today to assess the climate impact of a new building or renovation should rather be the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions including the embodied emissions produced by the construction work and the operational emissions produced by the building,” said Gillett.

Abolition of energy-saving incentives worries French building sector

The €2 billion of financial aid to boost energy renovation in France’s COVID recovery plan may not be enough to compensate for the abolition of financial assistance provided to households under the so-called “energy saving incentives” – or what the French ministry has branded “coups de pouce isolation”. EURACTIV France reports.

Materials and components also an issue

However, the CO2 emissions by buildings do not only emanate from the buildings themselves as the cost of transport, manufacturing and materials are also problematic.

According to Gillett, an analysis of the sector’s environmental impact should be done at a wider scale. “Renovating a building to reduce its energy consumption makes little sense if we do not control the carbon-intensive materials and components used for the renovation, and if these are transported over long distances,” Gillett added.

When it comes to building materials, the carbon footprint could be reduced by promoting a circular economy, according to Brian Norton, co-chair of the EASAC working group.

“Many building materials can be reused, recycled and recovered. For a start, buildings and their components should be designed to be easily dismantled at the end of their use,” he said, adding that “we need to stop the current practice of tearing down structures and rebuilding them from scratch.”

Next month, the European Commission is due to propose a revisision of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, which should increase the use of renewable energy to 38%, with a minimum percentage of renewable energy use in buildings – a tool that could help the sector reduce its footprint.

France trailing behind EU renewable energy goals

The European Union is expected to soon raise its renewable energy target for 2030, and France, which has already largely missed its 2020 goal, could have difficulties in meeting the new objective. EURACTIV France reports.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 893858.





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