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
Political observers in Brussels are concerned the perceptible shift to the far right in European politics will intensify with the European elections scheduled for May 2019. No one knows how dramatic the shift will be, but those of us fighting to put energy efficiency centre stage are getting worried. Long-term renovation strategies may not be a phrase that quickens pulses across the EU, but in the context of the political shift that may be coming, it could be key to maintaining the purpose and direction of Europe’s climate and clean energy policies.
Many right wing populist forces are dismissive about energy conservation and emissions cuts. At least one cabinet member from an eastern European country has been heard stating that: “Energy efficiency is number 15 on the priority list for my prime minister right now.” Yet, putting energy efficiency higher on the political priority list will benefit central and eastern European countries proportionately more than other EU member states since their buildings tend to waste more energy in the first place.
We are concerned that a greater shift to the far right and towards so-called populism could push energy efficiency further down the priority list of all European countries. It is therefore important to adopt and sign off on key policy measures as soon as possible so that our collective climate ambitions have a greater chance of being achieved.
One excellent way of doing this relates to Europe’s pledge to curb energy consumption in buildings — a central plank of its policy to meet commitments agreed in the Paris climate deal. Under the recently amended Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, six months before the parliamentary elections, EU member states should submit the first draft of their long-term renovation strategies. These will be annexed to the draft national energy and climate plans (NECPs) countries must hand over to the European Commission, the EU executive body, outlining their blueprints for reaching the EU target to cut carbon emissions by at least 40% by 2030, measured against 1990 levels.
In the renovation strategies, member states must show how they intend to cost effectively transform their building stock into nearly zero energy buildings (nZEB) by mid-century, a vital step in reaching the 2030 target and the aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions to at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. They will have to provide detailed measurable progress indicators and decadal milestones, as well as policies and actions targeted at public buildings and the worst-performing segments of their stock. Countries will also have to demonstrate how they will mobilise investment for these projects and how smart technologies and well-connected buildings can positively impact on energy savings.
Crucially, the amended directive instructs member states to consider potential “trigger points” in a building’s life — when it was bought, sold, extended, rented, repaired or refurbished — where energy renovations would be less disruptive and more economically advantageous. It likewise proposes schemes for introducing building renovation passports, which would contain the output from technical on-site energy audits based on quality criteria amassed over a building’s whole lifetime and contain clear and cost-effective recommendations for deep renovations. If the current regime of energy performance certificates were to evolve at the national level into such passports, then building owners would have a user friendly way of intervening at crunch moments.
These two measures are key because together they have the potential to triple the current annual renovation rate from 1% to 3%. This is the least we will have to do, if we are to meet the Paris goals.
Innovative schemes incorporating these ideas are already up and running in Flanders, Belgium, France and Germany, where participating building owners have access to information about their buildings’ thermal comfort levels, air quality or daylight entry times and angles.
The more such policy platforms are mainstreamed into NECPs, the greater the chance that serious planning is undertaken, obstacles to renovation removed and a timely transformation of today’s building stock will take place.
But the reverse is also true. If future changes in the European political landscape result in leaders who do not see this as a priority, member states’ long-term renovation strategies are more likely to be haphazardly put together by disinterested civil servants and uncoordinated with other factors, meaning we will not progress.
The main reason why our buildings account for a third of our carbon dioxide emissions is that more than three quarters of them are energy inefficient. Successive generations of policy makers have not adequately addressed the issue and failing to do so now will put the Paris commitments further out of reach since more than three quarters of the buildings we see around us today will still be in use in 2050.
Cutting emissions from our buildings is a race against time and the stakes are far too high to allow a shift to the right in the European elections to lead us to fritter away this opportunity.
Renovate Europe is a political communications campaign aimed at reducing the energy demand of the building stock in the EU by 80% by 2050, compared to 2005, through legislation and ambitious renovation programmes. This will bring the energy performance of the entire building stock in the EU to a nearly zero energy performance level. Renovate Europe brings together 41 partners from across the building value chain. Find out more: http://renovate-europe.eu/
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.
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