Building on shaky foundations: EU’s renovation strategy needs more climate 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, Mauro Anastasio reports.

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. Amongst the most welcomed announcements were the promises to make minimum energy efficiency standards for buildings legally-binding across the EU, and to gather funds to address energy poverty.

The so-called Renovation Wave is also expected to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the renovation sector, the Commission said.

In the next year, the proposed measures and investments will be detailed and discussed by EU institutions and governments as part of different directives.

A plan to modernise Europe’s homes and public buildings was much needed, everyone agrees. 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.

However, NGOs gave the strategy a lukewarm reception. While welcoming the urge to focus on energy efficiency, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) warned that the strategy fails to address the need for the complete decarbonisation of the sector.

“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,” said Stephane Arditi, a policy manager at the EEB. Arditi argued that “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 ambitious when it comes to reducing emissions.” He also called for legally-binding emissions reduction targets to be included in the upcoming revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.

Fossilised problems

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

“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,” said Davide Sabbadin, a policy officer for climate and energy at the EEB.

Sabbadin urged EU lawmakers to accompany the renovation strategy with a plan to gradually phase out the installation of new gas and oil boilers. He said EU institutions and member states must also re-orient financial incentives away from fossil fuels and towards renewable and clean heat solutions, such as solar power and heat pumps.