EU Renovation Wave: right direction, wrong speed for emissions and energy poverty

14 October 2020

‘Flagship’ EU plans to kickstart large-scale building renovations and energy poverty action, unveiled today by the European Commission, are a step in the right direction, says Friends of the Earth Europe.

The ‘Renovation Wave’ strategy had been much anticipated by social and environmental groups - offering a potential ‘win-win-win’ opportunity to tackle climate change, poverty rates and to pioneer sustainable jobs for economic recovery. But today’s plans do not go far enough in reducing energy poverty, nor fast enough in making all Europe’s buildings zero carbon in line with the Paris agreement, said the environmental group.

Right direction, wrong speed

The Renovation Wave includes a promise to introduce legally binding minimum energy performance standards - which would help reduce emissions from Europe's most decrepit and energy-wasteful homes.

However the proposal to only double the current - low - rate of building renovations would not be quick enough to move Europe rapidly towards highly energy efficient and zero carbon buildings.

Buildings are the single largest energy consumer in Europe and an important missing link in climate action. However member states continue to falter on meeting even existing meagre efficiency targets.

Today’s strategy targets some renovations for energy-poor households. But this is unlikely to make a significant dent in Europe’s crippling levels of energy poverty. 1 in 4 Europeans are unable to adequately light, heat or cool their homes. And poor quality housing is linked to 100,000 premature deaths a year.

Martha Myers, energy poverty campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said:

“As the Covid-19 crisis pushes many energy poor households to the brink, we need a revolution in building renovations to slash our emissions, create green jobs, and provide warm, decent and zero carbon homes for everyone. Leaky roofs, unhealthy homes, and wasted energy must be a thing of the past.

“Today’s Renovation Wave announcement is a case of the right direction, but the wrong speed - the European Commission is not going fast enough in ramping up renovations to tackle the climate crisis, nor prioritising the millions of Europeans living in inadequate homes. The Commission’s lofty words would be more credible if matched by far reaching action to triple renovations and targeted funding for those living in energy poverty first.”

Renovation Wave highlights

  • Current building renovation rates are set to double from 1% to 2% of buildings per year, or 35 million renovated buildings by 2030. This is a slow start to reach net-zero building stock. Europe needs to at least triple the current annual renovation rate, and focus on deep renovations: if renovations remain shallow, they will fail to significantly dent greenhouse gas emissions.
  • A welcome promise to introduce legally binding minimum energy performance standards in 2021 - a necessary step to make all Europe’s buildings low carbon and liveable, helping reduce emissions from Europe's most inefficient homes.
  • Only limited action for energy poor households. The plan does not commit to ring-fencing EU funding to drive renovations where they are most needed, for the energy poor. 
  • Finance remains fragmented and reliant on member states. One stop shops are welcome, but money needs to be urgently directed to energy poor housing. Social and environmental groups advocate for public investment of 260 billion per year.

 

Guidelines on energy poverty

Guidelines on energy poverty were also launched today and included some important recommendations for member states, such as creating national definitions and indicators to identify and measure energy poverty. However, this guidance is not binding and offers no legislative references or targets - at a time when Covid-19 has seen energy poverty rates escalate to critical levels for over 50 million Europeans. Organisations such as the Right to Energy Coalition advocate a ban on disconnections and setting a baseline of clean and affordable energy for all Europeans to end energy poverty.

Martha Myers added: 

“These guidelines are helpful but they will need to be legally binding to end the rising scourge of energy poverty in Europe. Europe’s energy poor need a green bailout and must take centre stage as a primary target group for energy efficiency and climate legislation action - not be left as a gesture.”