By Adrian Joyce, Renovate Europe Campaign Director

27th September 2018

Political observers in Brussels are concerned that the perceptible shift to the right in European politics will intensify with the European elections scheduled for May 2019.  No-one knows how dramatic the shift will be, but those of us that have been fighting to put energy efficiency centre-stage are getting worried.

Long term renovation strategies may not be a phrase that quickens pulses across the EU but in the context of the coming political shift, it could hold the key to maintaining the purpose and direction of our climate policy.  The antipathy of populist forces in power towards energy conservation and emissions-cuts has long been known, although many voices continue to strive to change this.

I have heard reports that at least one Cabinet Member from a CEE government, who wishes to remain anonymous, has said that: “Energy efficiency is number 15 on the priority list for my Prime Minister right now.”  And this is despite the fact that putting energy efficiency higher on the political priority list will benefit CEE countries proportionately more than other EU Member States, given their starting point.

With a further shift to the right and towards so-called populism, will we see energy efficiency falling further down the priority list of EU Member States from North to South and from East to West?  This would be truly worrying.

Therefore, it is becoming increasingly important to adopt and sign-off on key policy measures, so that our collective ambitions have a greater chance of being achieved.  One excellent way of doing this relates to Europe’s commitment to curbing energy consumption in buildings – a central plank of policy to meet the Paris targets – as set out in the amended Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and in the Governance Regulation.

Six months before the parliamentary elections, EU Member States are due to submit the first draft of their long-term renovation strategies.  These will be included in annexed reports to their draft national energy and climate plans (NECPs).  These will, among other things, outline their blueprints for reaching the EU’s 2030 target of at least a 40% cut in carbon emissions, measured against 1990 levels.

Final versions of the NECPs – without long-term renovation strategies – will have to be submitted by December 2019, before final versions of the renovation plans are filed, in March 2020.  This may seem like a cumbersome process and was seen by some as such when it was agreed, but these cog-like mechanisms of accountability provide oversight and can ensure follow through on courses of action that Member States have committed themselves to.

In the case of the long-term renovation strategies, Member States must show how they intend to cost-effectively transform their building stock into nearly zero energy buildings (nZEB) by mid-century.  They will have to provide detailed measurable progress indicators and decadal milestones, as well as policies and actions targeted at public buildings and the worst-performing segments of their stock.

Countries also have to demonstrate how they will mobilise investment for these projects and demonstrate how smart technologies and well-connected buildings can positively impact on energy savings.  Crucially, the amended Directive instructs Member States to consider potential “trigger points” in a building’s life and proposes schemes for introducing building renovation passports.

These two measures are key because they really do have the potential to triple the current renovation rate – from 1% to 3% – the least we will have to do, if we are to meet the Paris goals.  Trigger points are key moments in a building’s life – when it is bought, sold, extended, rented, repaired or refurbished – where energy renovations would be less disruptive and more economically advantageous.  If the current regime of energy performance certificates were to evolve – at the national level – into building renovation passports, then building owners would have a user-friendly way of moving at these crunch moments.

The building renovation passports would contain the output from technical on-site energy audits based on quality criteria amassed over a building’s whole lifetime – with clear and cost-effective recommendations for deep renovations.  Innovative schemes incorporating these ideas are already up and running in Belgium (Flanders), France and Germany.  There, participating building owners have access to information about their building’s thermal comfort levels, air quality or daylight entry times and angles.

The more that such policy platforms are mainstreamed into NECPs now, the more that serious planning is undertaken now and the more obstacles are removed now, the more likely the plans will be to deliver on a transformation of today’s building stock.  But the reverse is also true – hence our concerns about possible future changes in the political landscape.

If Member States’ long-term renovation strategies are poorly devised, uncoordinated with other factors, and haphazardly put together by disinterested civil servants, we will not progress.  Put simply, the main reason why our buildings account for a third of our CO2 emissions is that more than three quarters of them are energy inefficient.

Successive generations of policymakers have not adequately addressed the issue meaning that we must, because we will still be using more than three quarters of the buildings we see around us today, in 2050.

Cutting emissions from our buildings is a race against time and the stakes are far too high to allow a shift to the right in the European elections to lead us to frittering this opportunity away.

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Read on Foresight Climate and Energy: https://foresightdk.com/euroace-op-ed/