Beyond the corona darkness: Bringing light, air and sustainability into people’s homes

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

The European Green Deal presented last December recognised that buildings needs an urgent upgrade, not only to fight climate change but also to lift millions of Europeans out of energy poverty and to ensure that buildings provide a healthy and affordable living and working environment, writes Oliver Rapf. [barnimages.com / Flickr]

The European Green Deal must be central to the recovery programme needed to transition out of the crisis caused by COVID-19, writes Oliver Rapf. And the European Commission’s upcoming building renovation wave should be at the centre of it, he argues.

Oliver Rapf is executive director at the Building Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), a not-for-profit think tank supporting evidence-based policy making in the field of energy performance in buildings.

As Europeans are forced to stay home for weeks to come, they are experiencing their homes in a much-intensified way. The psychological impacts of the confinement will be experienced by everyone. Many will suffer not only because of a lack of face-to-face and close interaction with friends, families and colleagues, but also because their homes are not supporting them with a healthy and comfortable environment.

Europe and the world are going through the deepest crisis since World War II, and the economic impacts will be felt for years, if not decades. Policymakers and Central Bankers are taking decisions which were unthinkable a month or two ago to stabilise the situation.

These are the right short-term decisions to cushion the economic and psychological hardships which many are experiencing. But we also need to start considering long term measures which have sustained effects for our economies and societies.

Last December, the European Commission published its new economic growth strategy, the European Green Deal. The implementation of its growth measures is needed now more than ever. One of its key elements was the launch of a so-called renovation wave.

The Green Deal recognised that our buildings infrastructure needs an urgent upgrade, not only to fight climate change but also to lift millions of Europeans out of energy poverty and to ensure that buildings provide a healthy and affordable living and working environment.

Housing renovation plan will be ‘flagship’ of European Green Deal

A housing renovation programme, aimed at reducing energy consumption of buildings, will be “one of the flagships” of the upcoming European Green Deal that will be unveiled by the European Commission next month, an EU official has said.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us through an intensive course in crisis management and adaptation. Once we will have defeated the pandemic, we will need strong and sustainable recovery measures. In fact, the Green Deal must be central to the recovery programme needed to transition out of the crisis caused by COVID-19.

Well-designed recovery measures should not be biased towards the pre-crisis economic model but should use the opportunity to stimulate growth in measures which will help us tackle the climate and housing challenges with a much stronger commitment.

COVID-19 is particularly dangerous for people with underlying medical conditions, including a history of respiratory problems. These problems are often caused, if not worsened, by a poor indoor environment in buildings. It is only logical that Europe’s Green Recovery Programme should provide a strong investment programme in support of building renovation.

A renovation wave would have many positive aspects, economically, socially and environmentally, but also for everyone’s health. If resourced properly, the renovation wave would

  • Stimulate local economies to grow again, while supporting citizens’ confidence in recovery, societal cohesion, and healthier living conditions;
  • Create new and better jobs along the construction value chain, and new economic dynamics in supporting services and industries on a regional and local basis;
  • Improve the quality of our buildings and the indoor environment, reducing health problems related to poor building standards;
  • Create investment opportunities in long term real estate assets which provide better and healthier living and working conditions to people;
  • Support the achievements of climate goals and a just transition.

A European renovation wave should not focus on saving energy alone. In fact, we need to give our buildings a much more humane architecture which fulfills our need for sustainable and human-centric places. Renovations can turn buildings into beacons of hope and health, with long lasting positive effects for society. This is what our society needs after this dramatic crisis.

Launching a renovation wave will require actions from many, but one of the key ingredients will be funding. In a crisis, governments are willing to invest significant amounts of money to overcome it. While fighting the pandemic must be a priority now, we will still have a climate crisis and a renovation challenge once we are through the tunnel.

We should not lose sight of these and develop a Green Recovery Programme which aligns economic growth with societal and environmental priorities. A renovation wave will bring light, air and sustainability into people’s homes.

'People' to take centre stage in EU Commission’s new energy policy

“People, planet and partnerships” will be the three pillars of the European Commission’s energy policy in the next five years, said Kadri Simson, the EU’s recently-appointed Energy Commissioner, announcing a “massive renovation wave” to tackle energy poverty.

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