Towards EU Member States Economic Recovery: The potential of buildings in delivering jobs and a better quality of life.

Maria Spyraki MEP is the rapporteur for the opinion “Maximising the energy efficiency potential of the EU building stock” on behalf of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI).

The EU has long been considered a frontrunner in the field of climate and environment policy. In that perspective, the European Green Deal, a set of policy initiatives by the European Commission with the overarching aspiration of making Europe climate neutral in 2050, aims for the EU transition to a climate neutral, modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy as well as a fair and prosperous society. The Green Deal is a roadmap which includes complementary steps and initiatives which will nudge the Member States, stakeholders and citizens in coordinating their actions faster and more efficiently.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the social norms and the usual steps included in the Green Deal. It started as a health crisis, but it has rapidly transformed into an economic one. According to the World Economic Forum, the recession in the Eurozone is assessed at 8.7% for the year 2020. For Greece, the same assessment is 8-9.9%. Until now, the crisis has led to a steep increase in unemployment numbers, a fall in growth-enhancing investment and higher public debt.

Against this background, the Next Generation EU (NGEU) was launched at a European level. This Initiative will enable the European Commission to raise up to €750bn from the financial markets to tackle the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. The entire package has been negotiated with the EU’s next seven-year budget (2021-2027) in mind. It will be worth at least €1,074 billion.

Within the framework of the NGEU, the Recovery and Resilience Facility, which consists of large-scale financial support to both public investments and reforms (notably in green and digital), will support the Member States in their economic recovery while respecting their pledges under the EU Green Deal. To access funding stemming from this Facility, the Member States will have to draft National Recovery and Resilience Plans, which will have to be in line with their National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) and European Semester Country recommendations. These Plans present a unique opportunity to make energy renovation of buildings, along with the recyclability of materials (according to the new Circular Economy Action Plan) and other green investments, central to the EU Member States recovery strategies. In fact, the National Recovery and Resilience Plans, if well-designed and ambitious enough will have the potential to prove to be just what is needed to accelerate the EU’s pace towards full decarbonisation while rebooting its economy after the devastating economic downturn. Additional funding could be unlocked by leveraging the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and other instruments stemming from the Recovery Package such as REACT-EU, the Just Transition Fund, InvestEU Fund (managed by the European Investment Bank), national budgets and private sources.

So, after all, this pandemic can be seen as a wake-up call and an opportunity to do things right, as Mr Antonio Guterres  (Secretary-General of the United Nations) said. We need “quick wins” to address the needs of the citizens, especially during the first years of the recession. In this regard, if the EU Member States take on the opportunities lying behind the upcoming Renovation Wave Initiative, which is among the European Green Deal’s policy initiatives, they could truly restart the economy with the right foot. Until now, we have had a low rate of energy renovation of building at Member State-level, which has been swinging between 0.4-1.2% per year. In the European Parliament, we set a very ambitious target of 3% yearly, starting from public buildings. According to the recent REC Study, prepared by the BPIE, for every €1 million invested in energy renovation of buildings, an average of 18 jobs is created in the EU. Beyond macro-economic effects, improving the energy performance of buildings would help alleviate energy poverty by reducing the bills of nearly 50 million households affected by it across the EU. Additionally, this will bring healthy and safe living conditions. Moreover, energy upgrades of buildings could boost local economies by creating local jobs, such as experts and service engineers to audit current installations and install new energy-efficient technologies.

In conclusion, money alone will not be enough to restart the EU economy in green and smart away. There is a need to focus on long-term policies and investments to build a more resilient society. That includes a strong focus on the transition to a low-carbon economy, especially by reducing the energy demand of our building stock, to be sure to deliver a better future to the next generations.

Creating a dedicated Renovation Fund in the EU Recovery and Resilience Initiative

The European Union is planning to assign a vast amount of money to its Recovery and Resilience Initiative, intended to lift the EU economy out of the recession provoked by the global public health pandemic and to put the EU economy firmly on the path to climate neutrality by 2050.

Among the sectors recognised at all political levels as holding the most promise for stimulating the economy, is the energy renovation of our building stock. In general, the building stock in the EU can be described as old, inefficient and in need of renovation.  For this reason, the European Commission plans to launch a Renovation Wave via a Strategic Communication and Action Plan in September 2020. For the Renovation Wave to be a success, it will have to be properly resourced. Human, financial, and technological resources will have to be rapidly mobilised on a massive scale.

In advance of this Initiative, the Renovate Europe Campaign (REC) sets out answers to the most often asked questions on building renovation and shows how to mobilise the necessary resources to achieve a transformed, highly energy efficient and decarbonised building stock by 2050.

Why a dedicated Renovation Management Facility?

The availability of financing for climate-related investments, which include energy renovation programmes, has not been high enough in the past to ensure that member states are ambitious enough in rolling out energy renovation programmes. Having a dedicated renovation fund that must be used for the purpose of transforming the building stock will help member states take up the challenge of creating a fully energy efficient and decarbonised building stock by 2050. A dedicated Renovation Management Facility will come with dedicated Technical Assistance, helping Member States to absorb EU funds for building renovation by creating a stronger pipeline of projects – something that would be much easier than with a multitude of funds operating under different eligibility conditions and management features. Furthermore, the economic stimulus potential of energy renovation linked to the multiple environmental and societal benefits that flow from them will, in times of economic recovery, be a more attractive investment option for member states. Knowing that there is dedicated financing available will make it easier for them to prioritise energy renovation in their plans.

Who should manage the Renovation Management Facility?

The institution best placed to manage such a renovation fund is the European Investment Bank (EIB). It is undergoing a transformation to become the climate bank of Europe and it has built up considerable knowledge and skill in managing energy efficiency financing in the last decade. Creating a multi-disciplinary and multi- lingual team within the bank to take on the task of blending EU sources of financing onto a single fund and overseeing its distribution to partner banks, regional and local authorities, and institutions in all EU member states will be necessary, but the EIB has the capacity and the experience to undertake this task in a short timeframe.

An essential element of the task will be to provide technical and project development assistance to member states and to local authorities. Again the EIB has extensive experience of doing just this as it has been managing numerous advisory programmes, such as fi-compass, ELENA, JASPERS and URBIS, aimed that supporting national, regional/local authorities in implementing their sustainable action plans.

Why are buildings so important to economic recovery?

The act of building or the act of renovating is a labour-intensive activity. It is therefore a great source of employment and of quality jobs. This makes construction activity essential to our economies. The Renovate Europe Campaign recently published a study, based on research by the BPIE, that showed that on average 18 jobs are created in the EU for every €1m invested in energy renovation. In addition, buildings are fixed assets tied to their location and present in all corners of the EU, thus energy renovation programmes provide local jobs for local businesses (mostly SMEs) boosting economies at all scales. Knowing that the technologies, equipment and approaches needed to deeply energy renovate our building stock are already on the market means that we can, with confidence, require that the renovation wave is initiated without delay to assist in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.

How important is building renovation to the daily life of EU citizens?

Because we spend more than 90% of our time inside buildings, the quality of our buildings and of their indoor environment has a big impact on our daily lives. This is most starkly illustrated when we look at the statistics

about energy poverty. A large proportion of households in energy poverty are living in buildings that are in poor condition and the occupants are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses as a result. Comprehensive energy renovation is the sustainable answer to energy poverty.

The Renovate Europe Campaign recently published a study, based on research by the BPIE, that shows that the health benefits of undertaking quality renovations of homes in France would improve people’s health to such an extent that the Health Service could save around €930m per year. Furthermore, it found that if you take account of the increased productivity that results from lower levels of absenteeism and higher worker productivity, the boost to the French economy could be as high as €20bn per year.

In addition, buildings are the biggest investment (if you are an owner) or the highest cost (if you are a tenant) that we face in our daily lives. Ensuring that they are of high quality and resilient against the effects of climate change is therefore crucially important.

Finally, buildings express our cultural identity. We should not forget that buildings shape the living environment in our cities as well as in towns and villages. Well-designed, comprehensive energy renovation programmes can contribute to upgrading districts and forming cosy, cherished neighbourhoods.

Why is a renovated building stock a prerequisite to achieving the EU 2050 climate goals? What level of commitment is needed?

In the operational phase, buildings consume 40% of primary energy and emit 36% of energy-related CO2 emissions. The energy demand of the building stock in the EU must be reduced by 80% by 2050, by a combination of technologies that address energy losses in the fabric of buildings coupled with highly energy efficient equipment and controls within the building. The remaining 20% demand must be supplied by zero- carbon renewable energy sources. Unless the emissions from our buildings are reduced to zero, we cannot succeed to achieving the EU’s long-term objective of a climate-neutral economy by 2050.

Going further and including digitalisation to ensure demand response and a connection to energy grids permits buildings to play a fuller role in energy system integration and balancing of energy flows in our energy systems. To properly valorise the investments in renovation in terms of energy saving and carbon emission reductions, the CEN EPBD set of standards need to be widely adopted to make investment across Europe comparable. This integrated approach to renovation is being used today in pilot and demonstration projects but must become the norm within a short period of time.

How much money has the EU already invested in energy renovation?

The EU has invested considerable funding over the years in energy renovation. Some of the money has been used to provide technical assistance to member states and to local authorities, some has been in the form of guarantee funding to underwrite and leverage investments in the sector and some has been channelled to research and innovation.

According to a recent report by the European Court of Auditors, the EU co-funding for energy efficiency in buildings totalled just €14bn from Cohesion Funds in the 2014-2020 period. This is corroborated by a recent JRC study that reports that Member States spent €15bn annually on renovations from their own pockets, mostly in subsidies (60% of total investments). This means that current public investments fall well short of the level of funding needed from the EU to stimulate the renovation of our building stock!

How much and what kind of money is required to achieve the deep renovation of the building stock in the EU?

Finding the needed financial resources to achieve the transformation of the building stock in the EU is an enduring challenge. We know that the annual turnover in the construction sector (all activities) is in the region of €1,400 billion and that the turnover dedicated to renovation and maintenance activities is in the region of €370 billion. However, as the rate and depth of renovation increases in the future, the financial needs will grow and the European Commission recently estimated (cf. page 17) that there is a €185 billion annual investment gap for renovation of buildings. The Renovate Europe Campaign calls for that gap to be filled by the development of a dedicated Renovation Management Facility or Fund, within the policies that are being developed to ensure economic recovery and to build a resilient, climate-neutral economy in the EU.

It is clear to all stakeholders that this amount of money cannot be expected to be provided solely from public financing. It will have to be a blend of public and private financing that is sourced via various mechanisms.

Turning to how the money should be structured, we can say that there are at least three types of financing needed:
– Grants or pure “give-away” money that could be in the region of 30% of the total money being made available and that should only be channelled to the most vulnerable in society who cannot afford to invest in their properties and who will benefit most from the upgrading of their buildings (i.e. energy poor households) – Guarantee funds that cover the perceived risk associated with energy efficiency investments. This can best be provided by public financing to leverage or “crowd-in” private money

– Preferential loans provided through high street banks to building owners and developers. These loans have conditions attached that mean the preferential conditions only apply when the works to the building actually achieve (or exceed) the promised energy efficiency improvements. Having these loans widely available can encourage homeowners to more readily invest in their properties.

It is worth emphasising that investments leveraged by EU and member state funding will improve economic activities ending up in increased tax incomes and reduced costs for unemployment support. Furthermore, the European Commission stated in the inception impact assessment on the EU strategy on adaptation to climate change that exposing the present EU economy to global warming of 3°C would result in an additional annual loss of at least €170 billion (1.36% of GDP). Therefore, the balance for the gross economy will be lower than the required budget.

What is the Renovation Wave, and why is it important?

The Renovation Wave is an initiative of the European Commission that was included in the European Green Deal. It will take the form of a strategic communication that will set out a vision for the building stock in the EU, outlining the barriers and drivers of renovation, and it will be accompanied by an action plan that will demonstrate how the financial, human and other resources needed to make the initiative a success can be mobilised. The Communication and Action Plan are expected to be published in late September 2020. The Renovate Europe Campaign has set out its view on the ten elements that must be included to make the Renovation Wave a success.

Given the general lack of ambition seen in the national Long-Term Renovation Strategies, the Renovation Wave of the European Commission should spur and require more action and ambition from the member states. Most of all it should be the spark that finally pushes the energy renovation rate in the EU rapidly upwards towards the needed 3% per annum rate and that ensures all renovations achieve the full energy-saving potential tied up in our buildings. It must set the scene for how to succeed in creating a Renovation Wave in the EU that will put us on the pathway to a decarbonised stock by 2050.

Why are buildings today wasting so much energy (and money) in the EU?

A recent study by the BPIE found that 97% of the building stock in the EU needs to be upgraded as only 3% of the stock has an energy performance level equivalent to Class A. This arises mainly because about 75% of the stock was built at a time before member states introduced energy performance requirements in their building regulations.

We must reduce the energy demand of the building stock in the EU by 80% by 2050. To achieve this goal, we need holistic energy renovation programmes developed within a coherent policy framework that encourages stakeholder involvement and that results in projects that combine technologies to reduce energy losses with highly energy efficient equipment and building control systems. The residual 20% demand can then be more easily and economically supplied via renewable, decarbonised energy sources. This will, in parallel, reduce Europe’s dependency on energy imports and energy bills for consumers will reduce dramatically, boosting disposal income for families and businesses.

What is the current rate and depth of energy renovation in the EU, and is it adequate?

An important recent study undertaken by Navigant for the European Commission shows that the average energy renovation rate in the EU is 1% per annum. By energy renovation, the study means any renovation works that deliver a 3% or greater energy saving. If we look only at the energy renovations that deliver 60% or more savings (and this is the level of ambition that is needed), the rate is just 0.14% per year. The same study calculates that the average energy saving for energy renovation projects is just 9%. This is extremely low and significantly below the amount of savings needed to ensure that the building stock will be highly energy efficient and decarbonised by 2050. It is also very much below the level of savings that current building technologies, equipment and approaches to renovation can deliver. From this we can see that the current rate and ambition of energy renovation in the EU is not nearly adequate if we are to meet the long-term objective of the EU to be the first climate-neutral economic region in the world.




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Beneficial Undercurrents for the Renovation Wave

By Adrian Joyce, Director of the Renovate Europe Campaign

The Renovate Europe Campaign (REC) impatiently awaits the text of the European Commission Communication and Action Plan on creating a Renovation Wave in the EU.  We are encouraged that the huge energy saving potential of the building stock in the EU is at last being mentioned at the highest political levels across the EU and in its Member States.  Still, we are concerned that turning words into actions will still elude our national leaders and so we asked the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE) to undertake a Study on the positive economic and other impacts that creating and implementing ambitious building renovation programmes can bring.  Not surprisingly, they are varied and significant!

For the plans of the EU Member States and of the EU itself to succeed, they should be based on sound argumentation and on solid evidence that the effort will be worthwhile for all.  Member States have tended to shy away from taking action on buildings, as to do so at the scale that is needed, will impact the daily lives of millions of EU citizens.  Nevertheless, the realisation has dawned on political leaders that without action on buildings, the future looks bleak and, in particular, the ambition to adorn the EU with the first climate-neutral economy in the world will be just a pipe-dream.

To change mindsets, we constantly seek to present convincing, well-researched arguments as to why the effort is worthwhile.  This approach has been the “red thread” of the REC since its inception in 2011, and in planning for the Renovation Wave, we have reinforced our approach in partnership with the BPIE.  The 40 partners of the REC hold the view that it will be of crucial importance to ensure that the early implementation stages of the Renovation Wave Action Plan are successful.  We see this as THE opportunity to finally transform the lives of all our citizens, creating a highly energy efficient, decarbonised and healthy building stock.

So, what are the benefits that will flow from taking ambitious action on energy renovation of the building stock in the EU?  From a detailed scan of 35 recent reports on the jobs and other benefits of energy renovation, the BPIE has found:

On jobs and economic impact:

  • For every €1 million invested in energy renovation of buildings, an average of 18 jobs are created in the EU.  These are local, long-term jobs that will stimulate economic activity across the EU
  • The number of jobs created per €1 million invested varies across the EU depending on national circumstances and employment cost.  The Study reports that those numbers, for selected countries that have recently researched the issue, are: Croatia, 29; Estonia, 17; Finland, 16; Italy, 15 and Spain, 18
  • At national level, the Study found that it costs an average of €14,000 to create a job in construction in Spain, whilst in the same country it costs €20,000 to support an unemployed worker.  In addition, for each €1 of public money spent on energy renovation, the Spanish government gets €0.62 in return within one year, mainly via taxation.

On macro-economic benefits by building segment:

  • Holistic, energy efficient renovation of office buildings increases productivity by about 12% leading to a potential benefit of about €500 billion to the economy per year
  • Well-designed and executed energy renovation of hospitals reduces the average patient stay by about 11%, producing potential savings of about €45 billion per year to the healthcare sector
  • For homes, it was found that in France medical costs of about €930 million per year are linked to poor quality housing.  If we include the indirect consequences of such ill-health (absenteeism, lower productivity etc.), poor quality housing could be costing the French economy as much as €20 billion per year.

The clear message that comes from this Study is that investing in the energy renovation of our building stock is a very rewarding choice.  It brings personal benefits, societal benefits, and economic benefits.

The REC is convinced that it is now up to each Member State of the EU to include energy renovation of our building stock in their Recovery and Resilience Plans so that the promised renovation wave can be successfully rolled out with many undercurrents of multiple benefits for all.



OP-ED Energy renovation is the perfect recovery measure for post-COVID-19

By Adrian Joyce, Director of the Renovate Europe Campaign


As COVID-19 keeps millions of European employees and students at home, and wreaks havoc on our economies, we should already be considering how we can use the EU Green Deal (EGD) to kickstart a rebound in the post-pandemic period.

At Renovate Europe, we see energy renovation as a great means to contain the economic fallout. Millions of public sector buildings are currently empty and may remain so – particularly schools – for the coming 3-6 months. Quick action by policy makers, backed with financial stimulus, to support an immediate launch of a “Renovation Wave” would let people return to better, healthier work/study/recovery environments while helping the EU as a whole ‘flatten the curve’ of energy demand and emissions – and even turn it downwards.

The EGD has established a 2050 ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% (compared with 1990 levels) and is considering pushing the 2030 energy efficiency target from 32.5% up to at least 40%. Achieving those ambitions is simply not possible without putting the energy renovation of our buildings first, so the Renovate Europe Campaign says: Let’s get started without delay!


Immediate economic stimulus for small business = a head-start on long-term renovation strategies

In the immediate future, stimulating energy renovation will help keep the EU’s largest industrial sector active: some 16 million people are directly employed in the construction industry and, across the EU, construction accounts for 9% of gross domestic product (GDP). In some Member States, it remains the lifeblood of the economy.

Given that 97% of construction workers are employed by 3 million companies that have fewer than 10 people, a stimulus package for the sector is likely to gain broad public support. Arguably, these are the people – and their families – that are already experiencing deep financial impacts because of projects being put on hold.

Preparing long-term renovation strategies to support the EU efficiency and emissions reduction targets is a requirement in which all Member States are currently engaged. Undoubtedly, many already know where and how to secure quick efficiency gains. A large-scale, rapid-action plan could also be used to “feed” the proposed Open Platform for Renovation, which aims to be a repository of both technical information and best practices.


Capturing the value of public building and school renovations 

With a floor space of 6,380 million m2, non-residential buildings make up 25% of the total EU stock, and account for 10-20% of total energy demand, depending on the country.[1] On average, On average, buildings in the services sub-sector (e.g. public and private offices, shops, schools, hospitals) are 60% more energy-intensive than residential buildings (300 kWh/m2 versus 170 kWh/m2).[2] Total buildings energy consumption reached 458 Mtoe in 2016, with the services sub-sector accounting for 150 Mtoe (32%). Notably, demand in the services sub-sector has increased by 23% since 2000, despite a slowdown after the 2008 economic crisis.[3] While there are many types of public buildings within this sub-sector, it is worth noting that schools make up 17% and hospitals account for 7%.

Abating the severity of the economic crisis by rapidly scaling up energy renovation of public buildings offers governments, at both national and municipal levels, the chance to lead by example and to accelerate green strategies to quickly capture savings that are possible only when operating at economies of scale. While at the same time improving quality of life for citizens.

The City of Ljubljana (Slovenia) offers a remarkable example, having recently renovated 48 public buildings (e.g. schools, libraries, cultural institutions, sports centres), of which 23 qualified as deep energy renovations. With efficiency gains of 70-85% (depending on building type), energy savings are 8,245 MW and emissions reduction are 2.96 Mt annually, while the financial savings on avoided energy equal €1m/year.[4] With a total project budget of €14.8 m, the payback period is just 15 years. Project investors included the City, Petrol, the largest Slovenian energy company, and Resalta, a large energy services company (ESCO). Employing more than 100 local contractors, the project also boosted economic development.

Schools are an important renovation target. Energy consumption is typically the second most significant expense – after teacher salaries – among total running costs.[5] In many municipalities, schools account for up to 70% of the thermal energy costs.[6]  As aside from energy savings, renovated schools can quickly deliver health and academic achievement benefits. Modelling carried out by the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE) shows that within the 20°C-32°C range, every 1°C reduction in temperature increases student learning performance by 2.3% while every 100ppm decrease in indoor CO2 concentrations is associated with a decline of 0.1%-1% of absences due to illness. In turn, this improves academic performance by 3%-8% while good daylighting (ergo lower electricity demand) can boost attention spans, concentration and relaxation, increasing academic performance by up to 18%.[7]

Two interesting sources provide excellent information and advice on how the public sector can make schools ‘energy smart’. The first, ‘energy@school’ (a project funded by Interreg Central Europe) includes methodologies to assess energy consumption and prioritise efficiency interventions, an inventory of technologies and ways to cost-effectively bundle measures, and information on developing a business model to work with ESCOs. Build Up (on the European Portal for Energy Efficiency in Buildings) provides multiple examples of specific building renovations and educational programmes.


A down-payment to secure long-term cumulative benefits

Far from being a ‘quick win’, this proposal to jump-start the Renovation Wave must be viewed as a foundational investment: every unit of energy avoided is the start of capturing cumulative value.  Investing in energy efficiency does more than underpin economic recovery: it creates healthy and liveable spaces, increases energy security, moves the EU closer to its climate goals and commitments, boosts employment and productivity, and lowers healthcare costs.

Technically, the renovation community knows what to do. One of the biggest barriers is funding, particularly as a survey of financing schemes shows that most are insufficient to support deep energy renovation.[8] Renovate Europe calls on the European Commission to include energy renovation in any post-pandemic recovery strategy.

[1] Energy, Transport and Climate Institute, Joint Research Centre. Towards Nearly Zero Energy Buildings in Europe: A Focus on Retrofit in Non-Residential Buildings” towards-nearly-zero-energy-buildings-europe-focus-retrofit-non-resi­dential-buildings






[7] Source: BPIE, Building 4 People: Quantifying the benefits of energy renovation investments in schools, offices and hospitals, 2019.



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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.

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