The Covid-19 pandemic has tested all aspects of our society: families and individuals in confinement, communities in collective self-isolation and local, national and international authorities struggling to manage the omnipresent effects of the crisis. Now is not the time to give up on our planet. Now is the time to unite for a more sustainable future.
Ambitious sustainable home renovation initiatives must be part of the EU Recovery Package to reboot economic activity, protect existing jobs and create new ones, while improving people’s quality of life and creating a Europe where every person feels comfortable and empowered at home.
Most Europeans have spent 99.9% of their time indoors in recent weeks, making the need for comfortable, healthy and sustainable homes to live, learn and work in more apparent than ever. Our homes have served as shelters, protecting vulnerable people and creating the social distance necessary to fight the spread of the virus. Homes have functioned as workspaces, affecting our productivity and concentration. Universities have moved online, and with schools and day-care centres closed, nearly 79 million children have been spending most of their time at home.
At the same time, our homes remain vital spaces for family life. This pandemic has proven the imperative of healthy, comfortable, connected and energy efficient homes equipped for rest, work, study, entertainment and physical activity. The crisis has also revealed that our homes are not prepared to face this reality.
Poor indoor environments with little or no ventilation can contribute to cardiovascular, respiratory and nervous system diseases which can be prevented with good air quality, natural lighting, thermal comfort and acoustics. Poor indoor environments result in additional healthcare costs, lost hours of productivity, unnecessary suffering and ultimately a negative impact on society and the economy.
Vulnerable groups often bear the brunt of these impacts. The Healthy Homes Barometer shows more than one-third or 26 million of all European children live in unhealthy homes with structural deficiencies (poor ventilation, lack of lighting, noise and a lack of thermal comfort) that can generate negative impacts on their health and reduce learning capacity. People living in damp, mouldy, dark homes are 40% more likely to develop asthma, making them particularly vulnerable to life-threatening complications from Covid-19.
The pandemic is costing people greatly from every point of view: medical, social, economic and psychological. Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Kristalina Georgieva said: “This is a crisis like no other. We have witnessed the world economy come to a standstill. We’re in recession. It is much worse than the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.” As the EU and Member States devise recovery packages, it is key to not fall into the trap of short-term thinking, only addressing economic fallout today at the risk of weakening our fight against the most dangerous global enemy of our time: climate change.
The EU Recovery Package is an unmissable opportunity to accelerate the clean energy transition by elevating the focus on renovating our homes and buildings. Boosting eco-sustainable home renovation will save the economy in the short-term while paving the way for sustained climate change mitigation over the long-term.
Sustainable home renovations bring a myriad of benefits that go well beyond energy savings, including continued job creation (19 jobs for every million euros invested in energy efficiency projects), alleviation of energy poverty, improvement in physical and mental wellbeing — which in turn alleviates pressure on public health systems — facilitating productive home working and studying environments, and the regeneration of distressed communities.
Moreover, boosting investment and supporting initiatives focused on home renovation supports the creation of innovative companies, promotes modern, digital and resilient business models, and can help modernise and professionalise the construction sector.
As the crisis may come in waves, we could be faced with yet another period of self-isolation during the colder part of the year. Heating and cooling already accounts for half of EU energy consumption. Cold-weather confinement could leave the 50 million families affected by energy poverty with the choice of putting food on the table versus keeping their homes warm. We as Europeans cannot afford to wait.
Now is the time to launch a highly ambitious Recovery Package which supports the economy and fulfils the Paris Agreement. Now is the time to make sure policy makers hear our voices and commit resources to ambitious sustainable renovation initiatives in the residential sector. We deserve the opportunity to not only survive this crisis, but to thrive because of it.
At GNE Finance, our mission is to help build more resilient and empowered communities through the development of integrated eco-sustainable home renovation programmes combining affordable financing with technical assistance to homeowners. We work with cities and regions to design the programmes accessible to all Europeans, including vulnerable ones
The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of FORESIGHT Climate & Energy
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