March 5. 2024. 3:05

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Parliament adopts position on law to green EU houses by 2050

The European Parliament has adopted its position on the revision of the EU buildings directive, which aims to have all EU buildings to be climate neutral by 2050 by boosting the bloc’s renovation rate.

The EU’s building sector is a major climate action challenge, responsible for more than a third of CO2 emissions today. In December 2021, the European Commission launched its push to revise the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) – a key EU law that will make renovation of badly performing buildings mandatory.

On 9 February, the European Parliament’s industrial committee (ITRE) passed its position on the law. “The Parliament deal is good for people and the planet,” said Ciaran Cuffe, an Irish member of the Greens/EFA party in the European Parliament, the parliament’s point man on negotiations.

His draft position for the law passed with a solid majority through parliament’s industry committee (ITRE), with 49 votes in favour and 18 against, owing to support obtained from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), who initially opposed mandatory renovation.

“Building renovations can seem daunting to many people,” explained Sean Kelly, the EPP’s negotiator on the law.

“[B]ut there are many benefits to renovation. Not just from an energy and climate perspective, but also for health with renovations improving indoor air quality and comfort,” he added.

According to the European Parliament’s press release on the vote, the renovation of badly performing buildings is slated to become mandatory across the EU.

“For the first time, we have introduced mandatory Minimum Energy Performance Standards that must be reached by the buildings that waste the most energy,” Cuffe said.

These standards, generally referred to as MEPS, set out a minimum energy standard for public and residential buildings that must first be reached in 2027 for public buildings and 2030 for residential ones.

In a first step, that could be as many as 50% of the European building stock, according to property owners. The first target is for all European buildings to achieve an energy efficiency grade of D on a scale from A to F by 2033. By 2050, all buildings should be climate neutral.

“The task is daunting!” said Emmanuelle Causse, the international union of property owners UIPI’s secretary-general. She expressed the hope that “the right level of [lowered] ambition and flexibility” could be achieved in the upcoming negotiations.

Housing Europe noted that the ITRE agreement “does not adequately consider the demand for better and affordable general housing conditions.”

In March, the European Parliament’s plenary assembly is expected to accept Cuffe’s draft, which will then enable the “trilogues,” closed-door negotiations between parliament and the 27 EU countries, to take place.

In October 2022, EU countries have adopted a negotiating position that is far removed from the law that was accepted in parliament.

On the parliament’s side, the absence of support from the nationalist ECR party, where Croat lawmaker Ladislav Ilčić co-negotiated the law, is expected to hurt the parliament’s chances in the trilogue.

After all, Croatia is the EU country most ardently opposed to the EU buildings directive, refusing to even endorse a “fragile” compromise among EU countries, rich in flexibility and low on climate action, led by Italy and Poland.

Here, support from Germany and France, who promised to back parliament in a bid to inject more climate action into the law, is expected to play a crucial role.

EU countries agree ‘fragile compromise’ on green buildings directive

As EU countries struggle to agree on energy performance targets for buildings, Paris and Berlin are now counting on the European Parliament’s backing to introduce more ambition into the EU’s green buildings law.

Challenge from activists

But the troubles for Cuffe and the deal he negotiated in the past months are not only coming from the right and the EU countries.

To obtain support from liberal and centre-right lawmakers, the Irishman was forced to make some concessions on heating, opening the door for controversial hydrogen boilers and providing generous escape clauses.

The Coalition for Energy Savings noted that parliament’s draft law was “only a modest answer to the challenge of renovating the EU’s worst performing residential buildings.”

Cuffe’s compromise forged in ITRE, a committee traditionally more conservative than the parliament’s plenary assembly, may be tested in March when parliament must confirm it.

Then, lawmakers can submit last-minute changes to the law, something activists are already banking on.

As the EPBD should act faster, “March plenary must better recognise this priority and inject ambition into the committee deal,” stressed Arianna Vitali, the secretary-general of the energy savings coalition.

Other activists have signalled their desire to convince parliament to remove two passages from the law that open the door to heating with renewable gases, which they perceived as a lobbying trick.

EU buildings directive in turmoil amid push for hydrogen heating

As negotiations within the European Parliament on the Energy Performance of Buildings directive head into the final stretch, political demands on heating become the centre of attention.