New EU buildings rules are crucial to deliver on climate targets

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) must recognise that buildings are a crucial energy infrastructure for Europe, writes Monica Frassoni, president of the European Alliance to Save Energy. By being highly efficient, they can reduce energy demand but also manage, store, and generate renewable energy, she argues.

Through the agreement on the European Climate Law, the European Union and Member States have committed to become a net-zero economy by 2050 and, on the way, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030. Even if science says that the EU should go towards 65% GHG emissions reductions and the European Parliament had asked for 60%, the agreement is a step forward.

But can we deliver? Sure, but we need to be serious and unafraid to take the necessary step to abate emission in key sectors such as buildings.

I am not a number cruncher, but a couple of figures says it all. 75% of the current building stock is not efficient, and most of today’s buildings will still be in use in 30 years. Currently only 1% of the building stock undergoes energy renovations each year, so there is a tremendous gap between today’s reality and the EU’s climate ambitions.

In other words, we are lagging behind, and overcoming this problem implies making fundamental regulatory changes in EU energy legislation.

This is where the review of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) comes in. The EPBD is, in the European Commission plans, one of the legislative pillars to address energy performance and emission of the EU building stock.

Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the Green Deal, said in October 2020 that “at the present rate of restructuring and refurbishing our housing, we will not achieve the (EU climate) goals, we need to double that and that is what we want to do with the Renovation Strategy”, thus putting buildings at the centre of the European Green Deal.


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Filling the policy gap: Minimum energy performance standards for European buildings

The European Union has committed to a net-zero economy by 2050. To get there, it must decarbonise the building stock, which accounts for 36% of EU carbon emissions. The current rate of renovation, however, is only one-third of that needed. Even the improvements that are being undertaken are delivering meagre savings of 9% to 17% primary energy. Europe therefore needs to significantly increase the rate and depth of building renovations or risk missing its climate targets.

European and national policymakers have the opportunity to lead the charge to more ambitious energy efficiency and decarbonisation strategies. Europe’s proposed strategy, the “renovation wave,” provides the perfect home for ambitious new building policies.

Minimum energy performance standards for buildings can play a pivotal role in generating the necessary momentum. This mechanism sets regulated minimum standards for either energy use in, or carbon emissions from, existing buildings. Building owners must make improvements to meet the target by a specific date or upon reaching a chosen trigger point, such as sale or renovation. By setting out a clear trajectory of improvements for individual buildings, they can support a massive increase in the renovation rate.

A regulated minimum standard alone, however, is not enough. Successful minimum energy performance standards are introduced alongside a framework that comprises funding, finance and incentives, technical and practical support, and measures to ensure the poorest are not directly or indirectly burdened. Implemented within an effective renovation framework, they can overcome the significant barriers that have hindered renovation to date.

The authors draw from successful examples around the world to share key design features for minimum energy performance standards, their supporting framework and the considerations for policymakers just getting started.

A dramatic increase in energy renovations from minimum energy performance standards would not only deliver significant economic, environmental and social benefits across Europe, it is key to the economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

View the original article Louise Sunderland and Marion Santini here.


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