June 21. 2024. 6:59

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Why European mayors support ambitious building retrofitting goals

Europe must triple investments in the annual retrofitting of buildings, starting with the most vulnerable households, in order to meet the EU’s 2030 climate targets and curb dependence on fossil gas, writes Júlia López Ventura.

Júlia López Ventura is director of the European region of the C40 Cities network.

Europe is under a perfect storm. The intersection of multiple crises is putting leaders and citizens of European countries on the ropes.

The health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, from which we barely had time to start recovering, has been compounded by a terrible energy crisis exacerbated by the worst war in Europe in the last seven decades, a climate crisis that has left us with extreme heat waves and floods as well as a cost-of-living crisis that is deepening the continent’s inequalities and squeezing domestic economies with unaffordable purchase prices and energy bills for many citizens.

The concept of energy poverty, unfortunately, is no longer alien to us. In this alarming context, the role of local authorities in the energy crisis is more crucial than ever, as the closest level of government to the day-to-day needs of their citizens.

The mayors of Europe’s large and small cities have taken pains to protect the most vulnerable from the unacceptable choice between paying the energy bills or feeding themselves.

Energy advisory centres such as those promoted by the cities of Barcelona or Rome have become indispensable for many citizens who despair about the rising price of electricity.

Aid programs such as the replacement of inefficient and polluting coal-fired boilers by heat pumps in Warsaw, which were expensive to implement, have become the solution to lower the cost for affordable and adequate heating in many households.

Another example is the commitment of the city of Milan to install 60,000 square meters of photovoltaic panels in public buildings through public-private partnership to promote energy communities.

But there are many more actions that cities can take with the right support.

In April 2022, Europe’s leading mayors of the C40 cities network, together with the International Energy Agency, presented an emergency plan with 10 essential points aimed at tackling the energy crisis and reducing dependence on fossil fuels such as gas or oil.

The plan identifies three priority working areas: boosting renewables, accelerating the energy retrofitting of buildings in an extensive manner and implementing support programs for the most vulnerable.

These measures are focused on reversing decades of underinvestment in the implementation of a clean energy system, more efficient buildings and support for a more sustainable transport system.

With the right support and adequate funding, cities can lead the way out of the energy crisis, reduce energy poverty in Europe, improve public health and create thousands of jobs in the new green economy.

Tripling investments

On February 21, a delegation of European mayors met in Brussels with the European Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, to express their support for the EU’s ambitious climate goals and discuss the role of cities in accelerating the retrofit of buildings.

The message from the mayors was clear: it is essential that European leaders triple investments in the annual retrofitting of buildings from the current 1% to 3% – starting with the most vulnerable households – for Europe to meet its target of a 55% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, curb dependence on gas and accelerate the creation of skilled jobs in the new green economy as President Ursula von der Leyen announced at the launch of the European Green Deal Industrial Plan a few days ago.

According to a recent study by C40, this is equivalent to renovating a minimum of six million homes per year over the next five years, or 15% of all European households at a cost of approximately €200 billion.

Investing one million euro in the energy retrofitting of buildings and the installation of solar panels is also six times more effective in the creation of new jobs compared to investing the same amount in gas plants.

The EU is expected to receive the updates of the Recovery and Resilience Plans of member states in the coming weeks, following a call for these plans to be aligned with the REPowerEU plan – the Union’s plan to tackle the energy crisis.

This is therefore a crucial moment for European countries, and particularly for those with a higher allocation of recovery funds such as Italy or Spain, to take into account the need to be even more ambitious in their national energy retrofitting objectives. Cities will be their greatest allies.