EEP Group

Opinion: Renovation wave must be embraced

Published: Wed, 03 November 2021

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Renovation of the EU’s building stock is a key Green Deal priority, writes Seán Kelly MEP, leader of the Fine Gael Delegation in the European Parliament.

Renovation of building stock within the EU is not only a priority due to the potential to reduce CO2 emissions in Ireland and the EU, but also to drive sustainable growth and job creation. For example, the construction sector is the largest generator of jobs-per-million-euro-invested. With goals to renovate 35 million buildings by 2030, supported with funding of €672.5 billion from the Recovery and Resilience Facility, this provides massive economic opportunities.

The European Green Deal sets out in detail how Europe will become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. However, it is not just about reducing emissions; it also seeks to safeguard precious biodiversity, eliminate pollution and create a circular economy that will focus on transforming our economies into a model of production and consumption that stays within our planetary boundaries. All this is to be achieved while boosting the competitiveness of European industry and ensuring a just transition for the regions and workers affected.

If you think this is an ambitious endeavour, you most certainly would be right. The enormity of this undertaking must not be underestimated, but nor should the reasons why it is necessary. The latest scientific assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes this clear.

In line with the IPCC’s stark warnings, the European Commission has tabled a package of energy and climate laws to reach the EU’s 2030 goal of cutting emissions by 55 per cent in comparison to 1990 and put us on a path to be net zero by 2050.

The Commission, under the Fit for 55 packages, has proposed the revisions and initiatives to reach the 55 per cent net reduction target. This package stands as the largest single batch of legislation to tackle climate change proposed by any government, anywhere.

How Europe handles the energy transition will not just determine our economic future, but it will also determine the very social cohesion of the entire union. Ensuring a smooth transition will be incredibly important in this regard, and this will need dedicated funds to protect those most exposed from rising costs of fossil fuel prices.

Buildings are indispensable for reaching the EU’s carbon neutrality, energy efficiency and renewable energy objectives. Reaching our climate targets without decarbonising our living and working spaces quite frankly will be impossible.

Buildings are responsible for 36 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and 40 per cent of the energy consumption in the EU. Yet, in Europe today, 75 per cent of buildings are not energy efficient, mostly because many of the buildings in use were constructed before the current requirements were in place.
Without significant increases in renovations rates, we will miss an opportunity to create millions of jobs, but also, more importantly, we will fail the next generation who will have to deal with the consequences of our inaction.

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) is the main EU-level legal instrument for decarbonising member states’ building stock. Since its adoption, the EPBD has been closely connected with the EU climate targets and has been aligned to reflect their progressive evolution.

It is very clear that buildings will play a key role in whether we reach climate neutrality or not, and it is not just the EPBD that will determine the success of this at EU level. The Energy Efficiency Directive, Renewable Energy Directive, Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive, and the Energy Taxation Directive all have aspects effecting buildings, and they must be coherent with one another.

The energy performance of buildings is also related to other legislation such as the directives on energy taxation, eco-design, and eco-labelling. In addition to this, the EPBD will need to be consistent with numerous Green Deal initiatives such as the circular economy action plan and the EU strategy on energy system integration, amongst others.

This is not to bamboozle readers with a long list of legislation and action plans, but simply to demonstrate the multifaceted approach necessary to tackle emissions from buildings.

The fact is that the majority of our built environment, approximately between 85 and 95 per cent of today’s buildings, will still be in use by 2050. This puts renovations front and centre in getting our buildings climate ready.

Currently, the renovation rate is around 1 per cent per year. If we continue along this path our goals will not reach our goals. It is that simple. Instead, this really needs to start increasing more progressively to around 3 per cent or higher.

Staged and deep renovation of the existing building stock will be crucial to realise the energy efficiency potential of buildings. Member states need to recognise this, but unfortunately, it is very clear that not all have embraced the potential of the renovation wave.

In Ireland, 1.5 million homeowners spent more than €11 billion in the past year on home improvements; while more than 861,000 homeowners have plans to do more such work. However, we must ensure that when money is spent, it improves the quality of the home, not just aesthetic purposes or we risk missed opportunities, and we cannot afford missed opportunities.

For action to become reality, member states must invest in capacity building, technical assistance and in upskilling and reskilling policies to realise the twin green and digital transition.

It is necessary to have an EU skills initiative that enables intermediaries, such as installers, architects, or contractors, to advise, prescribe or install relevant solutions for energy efficiency programmes and a decarbonised building stock.

Member states need to provide a clear link between their national long-term renovation strategies and adequate initiatives to promote skills and education in the construction and energy efficiency sectors. The enormity of the task should not be understated, and we cannot accomplish it without skilled workers.

Even since 2018, our ability to utilise data has dramatically improved. The revision of the EPBD should also serve to further promote smart buildings technologies and foster a data-centric approach. In this regard, it will be pivotal to create a framework to leverage the use of data, which is GDPR compliant, to improve transparency, develop benchmarks and guide policy decisions as well as improve actual energy consumption.

There is also an opportunity in the revision of the EPBD to improve Energy Performance Certificates (EPC). EPCs should utilise better access to data and smart metering to provide practical information on real energy performance, instead of just estimations.

There are numerous potential environmental, social, and economic benefits associated with energy efficiency renovation, leading to energy savings, lower emissions and reduced energy bills for households. The renovation wave must be embraced if the EU and Ireland are to reach our climate targets.

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