Briefing 1/2020: Proof of how buildings renovation can help meet the European Green Deal

During its first 100 days in office, the Renovate Europe Campaign will be tracking the development of the EUGreenDeal – and proving why it must include a strategy for deep energy renovation of the building stock in the EU. We’re launching a social media campaign to call for an ambitious GreenDeal4Buildings. The new European Commission have now been in office for over a month, and so are one-third of the way into their first 100 days as a Commission, at the end of which a number of pieces of legislation should be proposed. On December 11, 2019, a communication on the European Green Deal was published.

Launched as “the EU’s Man on the Moon moment”, the European Green Deal is massively ambitious in scope and scale. While we appreciate the breadth of its eight “deeply transformative policies” and are pleased to see these backed up with a Roadmap of 50 related measures, Renovate Europe finds that the vital and underpinning roles of energy efficiency and building renovations are not fully considered. This, the second article published as part of the Renovate Europe 100 Day Campaign, offers a sampling of projects already undertaken to show that it is technically possible and financially feasible to dramatically reduce the energy demand of EU buildings – by up to 80% on average. This article is not only proof of what is possible today but demonstrates the value of building renovation as a means to help achieve the goals of the European Green Deal.

The article can be read in full here.

Keep up to date with the #GreenDeal4Buildings campaign via the Renovate Europe Twitter & LinkedIn.


Briefing 2/2019: Capturing the untapped benefits of energy renovation

December 2019

During its first 100 days in office the Renovate Europe Campaign will be tracking development of the EUGreenDeal - and proving why it must include a strategy for deep energy renovation of the building stock in the EU. We're launching a social media campaign to call for an ambitious GreenDeal4Buildings. This article is the first of three that will be published as part of our #GreenDeal4Buildings campaign, and focuses on the many untapped benefits of energy renovation - such as emissions reduction, ending energy poverty, economic and wellbeing benefits. 

As new Members of the European Parliament take their places and the European Green Deal — as promised by new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — takes shape, it bears repeating that the state of EU buildings holds the potential to make or break whatever energy, emissions and environmental targets are set in the coming months.

A growing body of research attaches figures to the value of benefits that energy efficiency measures deliver to public agencies, private entities, economies as a whole, and to individual citizens. Renovating private homes has a benefit-cost ratio of 4:1, reflecting reductions in healthcare expenditure, elimination of energy subsidy pay-outs, job creation and greater economic empowerment of citizens who are lifted out of energy poverty.

At present, buildings account for 40% of EU energy demand and 36% of carbon dioxide emissions. Each year, the EU imports 55% of its energy needs at a cost of approximately €300 billion. Most troubling is the reality that in 2050, nine out of ten existing buildings will still be in use.

Renovate Europe is pleased to see that buildings are included in early discussion of the European Green Deal. Yet to date, policy action in this area has failed to stimulate the level of deep energy renovation needed. During Executive Vice-President Timmermans’ first 100 days in office we plan to loudly advocate for renovation of the building stock as a tool not only to reduce emissions, but to capture a range of untapped benefits in terms of health, productivity and the economy.

The full article can be read here.

Keep up to date with the #GreenDeal4Buildings campaign via the Renovate Europe Twitter & LinkedIn.

Briefing 1/2019: Why Good Health Begins in a Good Homes

April 2018

Good health can come from many sources, but maybe none is as overlooked as the value of a good building.

We spend about 90% of our lives indoors. Most of the air we breathe over our lifetimes is found there. Our buildings’ temperatures, lighting, humidity, draughts and noise can determine our vulnerability to illness. They can even affect our moods and mental wellbeing. The World Health Organisation estimates that 4.3 million people die prematurely each year from exposure to indoor air pollutants. 

Reams of studies on the subject have incontrovertibly linked healthy bodies to healthy buildings. There are many benefits to healthy schools, healthy hospitals, and healthy office buildings, as well as healthy homes.


Download the Renovate Europe Briefing 1/2019: Why Good Health Begins in a Good Home

Download the one-page infographic: Why should we carry out health renovations?

Renovate Europe reaches out to safeguard Energy Renovation in InvestEU

Ahead of the trilogues on InvestEU scheduled today Monday 18th and Wednesday 20th, Renovate Europe called on the negotiators to safeguard energy renovation of buildings as an explicit investment area in the Sustainable Infrastructure Window.

 Indeed, article 7§1(a) should explicitly mention “(…) energy efficiency in line with the 2030 energy frameworks, buildings renovation projects focused on energy savings (…)” as in the Parliament position, supported by the Commission potential compromise text.

 Buildings, whether schools, hospitals, police stations, or houses and apartments, are an essential infrastructure in Europe, providing a shelter and a nest to our citizens. They must be renovated in an energy efficient manner to give comfort and wellbeing, ensuring good health for everyone. Funding building renovation is an essential investment in our infrastructure. When we renovate buildings, we are investing in the future safety, productivity and prosperity of the EU. As any other infrastructure, buildings require investment and renewal in order to stay effective and competitive.

This clarification of eligibility would help mobilise financing by bundling projects together, building a pipeline of projects, and giving confidence to investors and the private sector. This would be especially important given that in some Member States, between 40 and 80% of public infrastructure investment comes from the EU Budget.

Time to address Europe’s hot and cold homes crisis

(Jonathan Fox/ Flickr)

By Adrian Joyce, Renovate Europe Campaign Director

20 February 2019

Is it acceptable in 2019 that nearly one in ten households across Europe are unable to keep their homes warm in winter?

We have grown so used to living with energy poverty that it may seem strange to ask that question, even when a Friends of the Earth report out today finds that most European countries have significant energy poverty problems and will not be able to keep their citizens warm this year.  In a graphic to makes architects’ hearts sink, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia foot the table for damp, leaky homes with high energy bills.  Meanwhile, the EU’s coldest nations – Sweden, Finland and Denmark – still have the warmest homes.

We are familiar with not asking why this should be.  But actually, there are other questions that arise from a new European Environment Agency (EEA) report which similarly demands a response.  For example, should we tolerate a Europe in which one in five people cannot keep their homes cool in summer?

This is not a niche issue reserved for Mediterranean countries: 250 people died in the heatwave that hit Denmark last summer.  As climate change takes hold this century, unequal outcomes may loom ever larger.

Housing inequality is a key driver of unjust climate impacts – and that applies as much to cooling as to heating.  Heat rises and it seeps through thin ceilings, placing top floor residents at greatest risk of heat injury.  Just over half of the victims of the Paris heatwave of 2003 lived on the top two floors of traditional Paris ‘service rooms’.  Often they were elderly, or immobile.

The relationship between heat stress and top floor dwelling has been confirmed by research in Nuremberg, and it is worst in city centres where ‘urban heat islands’ can raise local temperatures by up to nine additional degrees centigrade.

Europe’s poor have traditionally been concentrated in older, cheaper and more poorly-built housing, often small flats in inner city apartment buildings.  Because they have less choice in where they can live, they have tended to rely on homes close to workplaces and affordable amenities, frequently in industrial areas.

“Ensuring the affordability of appropriately insulated and ventilated housing in quiet locations with good air quality is, therefore, key to reducing the exposure of vulnerable groups to environmental health hazards,” the EEA Study says.

Older tower blocks which typically house low income tenants in the UK, France and eastern European countries are particularly prone to over-heating.  But they need not be when, as the EEA Study makes clear, simple cost-tailored investments could turn that picture around – to everyone’s benefit.

In Berlin, an award-winning Kie zKlima project has involved residents in the building of shaded structures in a local kindergarten, a backyard greening for local multi-generation housing and the installation of a public drinking water fountain.

Another “living lab” building conversion in Dresden’s HeatResilientCity project is transforming 1980s prefabricated-slab apartment blocks in the Dresden-Gorbitz district, through a mixture of behaviour adaptation and physical measures.

Impressively, a renovation of two tower blocks in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham installed reflective blinds in windows, reflective coating on walls, roof insulation and mechanical extractor fans in a straightforward revamp that led to a noticeable improvement for most residents.

As Shirley Rodrigues, the deputy mayor of London put it at the launch of the EEA Study: “Half of the air pollution problem we have in London is non-transport related, and buildings are a massive source.  If we were able to set minimum energy efficiency standards we could do work around replacing boilers - which are a huge pollutant - both for air quality and for climate change.  But we don’t have those powers and there was no talk about that in the government’s air quality strategy.”

The British government is pursuing its own path to meet EU air quality obligations before it leaves the bloc.  But when almost 20% of the European households at risk of poverty are also unable to sufficiently heat their homes, the issue deserves urgent attention at EU level too.

In Bulgaria, most poor homes – nearly 40% of all households – struggle to keep warm during winter months, while other south-eastern European countries, including Greece, fare little better.  “This may explain why excess winter mortality in southern European countries is higher than in northern European countries,” the EEA analysis says.

Appallingly, the share of income spent by Europe’s low-income families on energy rose 33% between 2000 and 2014, with the worst performing countries suffering from winter and summer energy poverty.  In North Macedonia, Poland and the UK, lone parent households were found to be most vulnerable to cold home syndrome.  In Lithuania, single older adult households were most at risk of living in chilled dwellings.

“Building standards for urban housing are often an underestimated part of our climate policies,” the EEA director, Hans Bruyninckx, told a launch meeting last week.  Renovating buildings to high social and energy standards would offer “a good way forward,” he said.

With the building sector accounting for 40% of our energy use and 36% of our greenhouse gas emissions, it is hard to disagree.  The sector has the potential to transform the life possibilities of Europe’s most vulnerable – and alienated – citizens. It can infuse our emissions-cutting task with a cry for social justice that resonates across the continent. it merits priority attention now before our hand is forced by extreme weather events.

Read on Euractiv: 



Commission must not take its eye off the ball for decarbonisation by 2050


By Adrian Joyce, Renovate Europe Campaign Director

26th November 2018


The news that 10 EU Member States including France, Italy and Spain are demanding that the European Commission chart a “credible and detailed” path to full decarbonisation by 2050 must have come as a surprise at the Berlaymont.  The letter was a stirring clarion call to action that brooked no misunderstanding: “We encourage the Commission to set a clear direction towards net zero GHG emissions in the EU by 2050,” the energy and environment ministers wrote. 

Such a direction would have to involve an emergency scaling down of the nearly 40% of our emissions that currently come from buildings.  This would mean a major escalation of current renovation efforts.  Yet there are some signs that the European Commission may, as far as buildings are concerned, be proposing something much less ambitious, perhaps even taking its eye off the ball completely.

A leaked staff working document last month suggested that the Commission was only modelling scenarios involving a reduction of final energy consumption of between 18-40% in the residential sector between 2030 and 2050.  By 2070, it said, these percentages would only have increased “incrementally”.

The Renovate Europe campaign has called for an 80% cut in energy waste from buildings by 2050 – and that call has been backed by MEPs in the European Parliament.  It is the least that we need to do to reach our long-term goals.

Some commentators have expressed fears that the strategy in its current shape is far off track to achieve 1.5°C and believe it to be in stark contrast with the urgency of action enshrined in the new IPCC report.  In the IPCC report we see that reaching 1.5°C would require building emissions to be reduced by 80–90% by 2050, new construction to be fossil-free and near-zero energy by 2020, and an increased rate of energy refurbishment of existing buildings to 5% per annum in OECD countries.  We are far from achieving these numbers!

While it was positive that the leaked paper recognised the “huge potential” of highly efficient and decarbonised buildings to accelerate emissions-cutting programmes, it is baffling that it seems to under-utilise that potential in its analysis.  That disconnect between diagnosis and prescription must be rectified in the final version.

Reducing the heat lost by poor thermal insulation in Europe’s buildings is “crucial” to meeting the Paris climate goals, the paper says.  Buildings are Europe’s largest single energy consumer and gas and oil make up around 62% of their total heating inputs.  But the document then takes a neutral-to-positive view of a shallow renovations strategy that, inexplicably, appears to deliver higher energy savings by 2050, but lower ones by 2070.

Similarly, it is well and good to note that heating accounts for 60% of a building’s energy use – 65% in residential homes – but perplexing to then see behavioural change, fuel mix and biomass addressed in greater detail than the significant and permanent CO2 cuts offered by deep energy renovations.

Surprisingly, despite the low rate of new annual constructions, nearly zero energy buildings could still account for as much as a quarter of all Europe’s building stock by 2050, the Commission paper argues.  Thanks to the amended Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, these properties “will be fully insulated, and make use of their shell (rooftops, walls and also windows) and soil occupancy to produce renewable electricity from solar PV, solar heat or geothermal heat pumps.”

Even so, the leaked analysis recaps the scale of the renovations challenge in the EU today: 97% of existing buildings need partial or deep renovation; achieving the minimum Paris climate targets will mean more than doubling Europe’s current 1-1.5% renovation rate to 3% per annum, and quickly.

It is to be hoped that renovation efforts in the final paper will be focussed towards deeper energy renovation works at the worst performing end of the building scale, which the document elsewhere says should be prioritised.  Because on their own, the measures discussed in the leaked working paper will not be enough to deliver on the EU’s pledged transition to a low carbon society.

We are reaching a critical stage of the journey and of the energy decarbonisation process itself.  From here on in, the stakes will only get higher and the pressures greater.  The Commission will need clarity, nerve and vision to chart the path to 2050.  It must not take its eye off the ball now and it must give the buildings sector its rightful place in achieving a better Europe.


Read it on EURACTIV