Building on shaky foundations: EU’s renovation strategy needs more action

The European Commission plans to double the renovation rate of homes, schools, and hospitals by 2030. But its strategy falls short in key areas, such as decarbonisation and clean energy.

The European Commission promised today new financial incentives, targets, and measures to renovate old, energy-guzzling buildings across Europe.

The strategy is a pillar of the European Green Deal and aims to make millions 35 million homes and public buildings more energy-efficient while creating new jobs in the renovation sector. The proposed measures and investments will be detailed and discussed by EU institutions and governments as part of different directives.

Buildings are currently responsible for almost 40% of Europe’s total CO2 emissions, with a large part of the energy used to heat our homes going to waste. Domestic heating is also responsible for 45% of all particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution in Europe.

While welcoming the proposal to make minimum energy efficiency standards for buildings legally-binding and address energy poverty, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) warned that the strategy fails to address the need for the complete decarbonisation of the sector.

Stephane Arditi, a policy manager at the EEB, said:

“The targets and measures outlined in the strategy are not in line with Europe’s goal to reduce total CO2 emissions by 55-65% before 2030. Given the scale of the problem and existing challenges for the decarbonisation of other sectors, such as industry, Europe needs its Building Renovation roadmap to be more radically ambitious when it comes to carbon neutrality.

Targets for the decarbonisation of the sector, including embodied emissions, must be defined in the upcoming revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. This would be a more powerful message than a vague roadmap for 2050.”

Fossilised problems

With 80% of Europe’s heating being generated by fossil fuels – mostly gas – climate action in this area will require additional efforts.

An ambitious renovation wave must be coupled with a plan to gradually phase out the installation of new gas and oil boilers. The Commission and member states must also propose more financial incentives to help people switch to renewable and clean heat solutions, such as solar power and heat pumps.

Davide Sabbadin, a policy officer for climate and energy at the EEB, said:

“A wave of deep renovation is desperately needed, but that is not the whole story. The Commission still lacks a clear plan to phase out fossil fuels in our heating and cooling system, which is badly needed to reduce emissions and achieve climate neutrality by 2050.”

Sabbadin also criticised the EU Commission for promoting the use of decarbonised gas in the building sector, when we know its availability is still limited and it should therefore be utilised to decarbonise other sectors.

Fore more information, visit the Coolproducts campaign on clean heating.

Clean air requires clean buildings

Beyond energy efficiency, the insulation of buildings is a key step to reduce both air and noise pollution. This, coupled with the use of clean and renewable energy that is not based on the combustion of fossil fuels and biomass, will help deliver on existing legally-binding objectives on the air quality front.

Unfortunately, while recognising air quality as a priority, the Commission’s strategy fails to put forward measures and targets which will ensure a coherent approach to also tackle ambient and indoor air pollution, and move away from harmful sources of heating.

Margherita Tolotto, senior policy officer for air quality at the EEB, said:

“Domestic heating is a driving source of air pollution. Small private stoves and boilers emit about half of all fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the EU, causing the premature death of around 160,000 people. Solutions to cut it exist. We expect  EU institutions and governments to improve the strategy and ensure air pollution is also addressed properly.”

Building on shaky foundations: EU’s renovation strategy needs more action
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