April 19. 2024. 7:53

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Rome mayor to tackle carbon emissions with building renovation wave

Buildings are accountable for 53% of carbon emissions in the city of Rome, and this is the main issue that needs to be addressed in order to achieve climate neutrality, Rome mayor Roberto Gualtieri told EURACTIV in an interview.

“We are already tackling this with a very ambitious programme on energy efficiency in schools, housing and public buildings, and today we have volunteered to do more,” Gualtieri explained.

The mayor of Rome travelled to Brussels on Tuesday (21 February) as part of a delegation of other European mayors for a meeting with energy commissioner Kadri Simson to discuss the central role of cities in the energy and climate crisis.

During the visit, Gualtieri presented the European Commission with “new projects” in the context of the multi-billion ‘REPowerEU’ plan adopted last year in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

With additional EU funding potentially available, the Rome mayor says he will be able “to increase ambition on our targets” regarding climate change.

The city council plans to launch a renovation wave starting with schools and social housing. “Rome has 1,500 schools, 70,000 public houses, and our goal is to make them energy efficient with solar panels and retrofit them all,” he explained.

Schools can become “energy self-sufficient, zero-emission, they can also donate energy to the neighbourhood, to the families most in need, and thus become a centre of social cohesion and solidarity,” the mayor said.

The EU’s energy efficiency of buildings directive (EPBD), which is currently being revised with higher targets, was heavily criticised by the Italian government, which said it risked penalising the most vulnerable households.

But Gualtieri disagrees, saying it is a matter of urgency to ensure all buildings are energy efficient, and that ambitious targets are necessary.

“We must not water down the directive,” he said, “but we also have to support efficiency measures” through a “support mechanism, a structural incentive” so that, for citizens, these interventions are “not just a burden, but also advantageous because they structurally reduce the cost of energy.”

This can be achieved with a policy mix and a blending of different instruments such as grants and loans, the mayor argued.

Italy overturns ‘superbonus’ scheme for housing renovation

The Italian government led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has adopted a radical overhaul of the country’s feted ‘superbonus’ incentive scheme aimed renovating buildings and improving energy efficiency.

Cars emissions

The second big environmental challenge in Rome is road traffic, which makes up 35% of emissions. The city is listed among those with the worst air quality in Europe, according to data from the European Environment Agency.

The city administration plans to intervene by strengthening public transportation, but the financial resources are insufficient, the mayor said.

“There is a subsidised component of public transport that is too low today,” Gualtieri said, urging the European Commission to understand that financial incentives are needed to make this transition.

“The energy transition is not a free step. There is a significant investment gap that must be closed if we want to achieve these goals by 2030,” he said. “The same reasoning applies here as for the energy efficiency of buildings. Resources are needed.”

Tackling Rome’s waste problem

Rome also has a ‘waste emergency’: the city has no waste treatment plant and spends €200 million a year to send its waste to other parts of Italy and Europe, while waste recycling is inefficient and the streets are often littered with rubbish.

“Dozens and dozens of trucks leave Rome every day carrying waste, they take it all over Italy and pollute a lot. This is not only an environmental cost but also an economic one, which then reduces the resources available for separate waste collection,” Gualtieri explained.

However, a new ambitious waste plan has been adopted to overcome the stalemate, he assured.

Last year, the mayor presented a plan to reach a 65% separate collection rate by 2030, which included the creation of 30 waste collection centres, two anaerobic biodigesters, and a waste-to-energy plant which will be ready by 2026.

“This will lead us to reduce the overall share of waste going to landfills from 33% to 3% and to achieve a 90% emissions reduction in the waste cycle,” Gualtieri said.

Gualtieri is a member of C40 cities, a network of mayors from nearly 100 cities worldwide who cooperate to tackle the climate crisis.

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