20 December 2017

Adrian Joyce, Renovate Europe Campaign Director








The time that remains to avoid catastrophic global warming is rapidly slipping away. It is not just me saying that, and not just Emmanuel Macron. It is also the message that United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) delivered last week, and it is one that EU Member States seem to have heard ahead of their negotiations at the 19 December trialogue on revisions to the EPBD.

In the decades ahead, the world is set to construct a Paris-sized area of new buildings every week. By the 2050s, that activity will have added up to 230bn m² of new floor space, according to a UNEP-backed report by the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GABC).

The report says that to limit global warming to 2°C, energy intensity per square meter will have to improve 30% by 2030 – and that will require a doubling of the current pace of energy performance improvement. We know that some progress is being made but “it is too little, too slowly,” according to Erik Solheim, UNEP’s Director.

Global energy demand is rising fast, in line with the world’s rapidly increasing population and new connections to energy grids. So far this decade, energy demand has been rising by one percent each year to reach as much as Germany’s entire final energy use over the same period.

Most new buildings standing in 2060 will be constructed in the next 20 years – and only a third of these will be in countries with mandatory building standards. If Europe does not take a lead in bringing emissions from buildings under control, we will be handing China the role by default. And we will just have to cross our fingers that they can do it, while we put our fingers in our ears and sing.

The plain fact is that, as Fatih Birol, the IEA’s director, put it: “Ambitious action is needed without delay to avoid locking in long-lived, inefficient buildings assets for decades to come.”

The kind of ambitious action Birol was talking about is clearly spelled out in the GABC report which he prefaces. “Deployment of improved building energy codes and policies, including certification, labelling and incentive programmes, are needed in all countries,” it says.

Passing directives is a good first step, but it is not enough.  “Clear and consistent signals, including effort to update and enforce existing policies, are needed to drive markets towards sustainable buildings and construction investments,” the study makes clear.

In Europe, the negotiators from our institutions have put a flag on what this means for us: a vision for reaching a ‘highly energy efficient and decarbonsied building stock by 2050’, with long-term national renovation strategies with decadal milestones to prevent backsliding, and the engagement of all stakeholders in this process so that it can be seen through.

Having such a vision, we will be better equipped to fight the battle against climate change, responding well to the French President, Emmanuel Macron’s wise warning at the One Planet summit last week.

We simply do not have time to continue wasting our carbon budget while we wait for a 100% renewable energy supply. As things are, energy intensity improvements from the increased use of renewables are actually being offset by the faster growth of global floor area for buildings.

There is no need here to rehearse the multiple economic, health and social benefits that building renovations bring – their climate role should be important enough. With 39% of our energy-related emissions still coming from inefficient buildings, the savings potential from high performance construction and renovation was worth more than the combined energy consumption of all G20 countries in 2015.

To ensure that the potential is achieved, all that is needed is for good people in the Member States to take the road less travelled when implementing the revisions of the EPBD.  My message to them: be courageous and ambitious, set out strong, effective long-term renovation strategies – history will thank you for it!

20 December 2017