May 27. 2024. 9:52

The Daily

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Building resilience in Europe

The revision of the energy performance of buildings directive will make it a key tool to decarbonise the EU’s building stock while enabling citizens to afford mass-scale renovations, writes MEP Seán Kelly.

The EU will not achieve its overarching goal of climate neutrality by 2050 without tackling its built environment. Of course, improving the energy efficiency of Europe’s varied building stock poses a huge challenge.

However, after months of negotiations, we finally have the right toolkit to address this quagmire head-on – the energy performance of buildings directive (EPBD). Now, we’re asking the European Parliament to endorse this plan.

The current energy crisis has shown us how vulnerable Europe is to sudden energy price hikes. And the hard truth is that even after this crisis is over, gas prices will, for the foreseeable future, remain significantly higher than before 2022.

This ’new normal’ will hit the pockets of people in worst-performing buildings 10 times harder than those in energy-efficient buildings. While other sectors modernise, households would be left to bear the brunt of soaring energy prices.

The obvious answer is to renovate our buildings, where possible, so they consume less energy and are capable of using cheaper and greener renewable sources.

A massive upscaling of renewable energy resources alone would not be enough, or technically feasible, to reach our 2030 and 2050 climate goals, without increased renovations and structural measures in the building sector.

In fact, the uncomfortable truth is that ignoring the benefit of renovations would only shift the reform burden to other sectors.

How can we afford mass-scale renovations? Grants and government funding will be crucial, but public funds can only stretch so far. There will still be massive funding gaps for renovations if we fail to bolster links between the financial and the building sectors.

That’s where the EPBD can play its part.

Firstly, by ensuring banks have appropriate access to data so that they can properly assess risks and offer the most attractive products to consumers.

Secondly, by supporting an EU-wide renovation guarantee fund to enable credit institutions to reduce their risk exposure on green mortgages portfolios.

Vitally, the directive brings more certainty to the pace and timeline of the European Union’s sustainable transition, in a manner that can be taken into account by credit and financial institutions in their decisions on portfolio allocations and medium-term financing.

The EPBD also holds the significant added value of job creation if implemented. Eighteen thousand long-term jobs will be created for every €1 billion invested in energy efficiency, for example. These will be well-paid, secure careers.

Some may argue that the EPBD is not necessary since we have expanded the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS). But the reality is, while the ETS is complementary, it can only partially address economic and financial barriers.

Other well-known barriers to renovations cannot be dealt with effectively by the ETS and by increasing the energy bill of households.

Buildings do not move across borders, so the EPBD favours taking local and national circumstances and the diversity of our building stock into account, to ensure a cost-effective approach. This includes using existing infrastructures and energy sources.

Europe has thousands of beautiful buildings that hold historical and architectural importance. These buildings are part of our history and culture, it is very important that their character is protected along with efforts to decarbonise.

The EPBD will, without a doubt, directly affect citizens. However, the depth of the potential impact has been misrepresented by some.

There have been inaccurate depictions of the amount of buildings to be renovated and more problematically, false or exaggerated language on penalties and social implications.

To put it simply, nobody is going to be thrown out of their home if they cannot renovate nor will Europe’s cherished buildings be torn down.

It is for this reason that we sent a strong signal to citizens by deleting references to penalties proposed by the European Commission. There are many benefits to renovations and that is what we want to highlight.

The real enforcement mechanism will be the market itself. The EPBD is as much about asset protection as it is about climate change, where investments see tangible and predictable returns.

Buildings with low-rated energy performance certificates will be less valuable regardless of the EPBD. Without it, we would make it harder for people to renovate.

Our approach is based on pragmatism and effectiveness. Progressive decarbonisation is the ultimate goal and we should not be distracted by ideology.

Not by the ideology of those who focus on simplistic solutions that ignore the realities on the ground. Not by the ideology of those who will do anything it takes to avoid change, even as time runs out to mitigate the worst impact of climate change, and even if it means passing the burden to the next generation.

The EPBD captures the delicate balance needed to achieve our climate goals in a practical way and is unquestionably a necessary action required of us all.