Published today, the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of leading scientists who advise governments, underscores how the world is not doing anywhere near enough to stop climate change spiralling out of control. This warning will trigger the usual plethora of ambitious speeches, but not necessarily the requisite action. Decarbonising the building sector is a huge challenge, but it is also a massive opportunity and one that will benefit us all.
In Europe, buildings consume 40% of the region’s energy and emit 36% of its greenhouse gas emissions, a figure that could reach 50% by 2050 if nothing is done to radically change current trends. Often we hear that change is complex and difficult because buildings are relatively small and because renovation is intrusive and expensive, but the facts suggest a very different story.
Buildings play a big rather than small part in our lives. We spend 90% of our time in them and they are at the root of our memories, experiences and projects. They are core to how we spend our money to make life better for our families and future generations.
In fact, buildings are the biggest investment we make in our life time — in Europe, the mortgage market is equal to 53% of EU GDP. Renovation policies should be seen from the unique perspective that it is in buildings we invest most of our earnings. Incredibly, most of the time we spend our hard earned cash with little guidance, overlooking that aesthetic improvements could go hand in hand with ways to actually make our homes healthier and cheaper to heat and cool.
Intrusiveness is based on the perception that renovation policies will interfere too much with our private sphere. But whether we like it to not, government rules and regulations determine the type of buildings in which we live. Instead of discussing intrusiveness per se, we should ask a different question: what is more intrusive, policies that allow landlords to sell or rent leaky, draughty and cold homes that are bad for their inhabitants’ health and pocket, or policies that require these actors to renovate those poorly performing homes?
In my opinion, non-action at a policy level that leaves families in developed countries having to choose between heating and eating, reduces the value of their assets and jeopardises climate action and the energy transition is far more intrusive than renovating buildings.
Question of cost
Last, but not least, is the question of cost and whether making buildings more energy efficient really is too expensive. The short answer is no. Hundreds of thousands of home refurbishments are undertaken every year and there are as many hooks to improve energy performance. Income and ownership situations are different for different people in different countries and policy makers need to come forward with tailored solutions that involve public and private finance.
They should actively support the emerging interest from banks for renovating homes via energy efficient mortgages. This is a win-win game that reduces risk for both the owner and the bank since renovating a building to make it more energy efficient prevents the home losing value over time — a loss for the owner and for the bank’s asset portfolio — and lower energy bills reduce the probability of borrowers defaulting on their mortgage.
Small, intrusive and expensive are not words that anybody needs to associate with the renovation of buildings. Renovate Europe Day on 9 October 2018 is the perfect opportunity for national policy makers to take leadership of this issue to unlock finance and underline how the transformation of our building stock is desirable for the economy, for people and for the climate. They need to be innovative. They should also inspire collaboration to break the silos of the building renovation industry and link policies, education, training and skills aimed at those wanting to work in construction.
Many of the reasons to renovate converge and the rewards of a deep renovation will be bigger than expected. Making a home more comfortable will also make it more energy efficient. The more holistic the renovation, the better it will contribute to climate action and answer people’s needs. And even if the aggregated climate impact will only be seen after many years, already tomorrow European citizens will get to enjoy better lives in more energy efficient homes.
This is part of a series of opinions published by FORESIGHT Climate and Energy ahead of Renovate Europe Day 2018 (9 October), when a high level conference will be held in the European Parliament in Brussels on how to make Europe’s buildings more energy efficient.
Standards forcing landlords to make buildings more energy efficient would benefit the climate and tenants, say Jan Rosenow from the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP) and Sibyl Steuwer from the Buildings Performance Institute Europe
Populist politics must not be allowed to interfere with EU plans to increase energy efficiency gains in buildings, argues Adrian Joyce, Director of the Renovate Europe Campaign
Merging new technologies and traditional building techniques makes buildings more energy efficient, say Sandra Piesik, editor of “HABITAT: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet”, and colleague Karen Rizvi
Exciting new technology, equipment and greater political will help boost the image of energy efficiency, a vital tool in reducing emissions, says Jennifer Layke, US-based Global Director of the Energy Programme at the World Resources Institute
The US state of California is setting an example for others to follow on energy saving policies, explains Andrew McAllister, lead commissioner for energy efficiency at the California Energy Commission
How the non-energy benefits of energy efficiency are often overlooked, yet vital if investments for energy savings are to increase substantially.