This is the moment to renovate your buildings, EU tells member states

Frans Timmermans announcing Renovation Wave in October [Lukasz Kobus / EC Audio Visual Service]

Now is the time for member states to renovate buildings and make them energy efficient, the EU’s climate chief Frans Timmermans said today (27 October), despite a lack of clarity on minimum requirements at EU level, which won’t be introduced until next year.

The EU’s renovation wave strategy is a “low-hanging fruit” for member states, which can use it to boost their COVID-19 recovery plans, reduce carbon emissions and create jobs at the same time, said Timmermans who is the European Commission vice-president for the Green Deal.

For its part, the EU executive needs to ensure “regulatory clarity”, “offer predictability” and do this “in a uniform way” as EU countries move forward with national renovation plans, added Timmermans who was speaking at Renovate Europe Day in Brussels.

“Energy efficiency is a job creating machine” in the EU’s fight against climate change, which brings social as well as environmental benefits, added Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), who spoke at an online chat with Timmermans the day before.

The Commission launched a building renovation wave earlier this month, aiming to rally popular support behind plans to cut emissions from buildings and reduce energy bills.

Under those plans, the Commission intends to double the EU’s annual rate of energy-related building renovations, which is currently stuck at just 1%, and upgrade 35 million buildings by 2030.

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.

Lack of clarity on minimum requirements

But the EU executive is yet to provide clarity when it comes to minimum renovation requirements for buildings.

The Commission is currently doing an impact assessment and will adopt more detailed rules as part of the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which is due in June next year as part of a package of energy and climate legislation.

Minimum requirements will “give the right framework that yields the result you’re looking for,” Timmermans said, adding they are an “extremely helpful tool because you can tailor them to the specific circumstances of member states and even at a lower level”.

The Commission’s renovation strategy calls for an “integrated approach that also accounts for the social setting and affordability of housing,” saying minimum energy performance standards  can speed renovations and limit the monthly expenditure of those renting or owning homes.

Some member states already have mandatory minimum energy performance standards in place.

France, for instance, already has a ban on rent increase in the case of poorly performing buildings, starting in 2021. The country has also introduced a ban on renting poor performing buildings from 2023, as well as an obligation to renovate the worst performing buildings by 2028, said Marjolaine Meynier-Millfert, a French centrist MP.

In the Netherlands, all office buildings will have to be have an Energy Performance Certificate of at least Class C by 2023, increasing to Class A by 2030. In Belgium, Flanders  is also considering proposals for minimum energy performance levels for non-residential and residential rented buildings.

Timmermans hinted that not all member states would follow the same path to renovation. While countries should learn from successful projects, there needs to be a holistic approach to renovation looking at the history, energy infrastructure and public opinion in each country.

“In certain cases, the renovation would have intermediary steps, not necessarily leading to renewable energy as the energy source, but also using natural gas, which already would lead to a huge improvement of air quality,” he said, pointing to countries still heavily reliant on coal, like Poland.

Timmermans was also optimistic that there is political support behind the renovation wave, saying “there is huge enthusiasm across the EU” for the renovation wave. “Especially cities all across the European Union are jumping on this,” he said, because they understand the benefits it can bring for quality of life, clean air, and job creation.

He added: “I really see this as the gateway to creating across the European Union enthusiasm for a climate policy because if people see it works in this crucial area they will also embrace the change in other areas.”

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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