Europe plans greener buildings to cut emissions, fight poverty

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The European Union set out plans on Wednesday to launch a wave of green building renovations across Europe to cut greenhouse gas emissions and help people struggling to pay energy bills.

The source of more than a third of EU carbon dioxide emissions, three-quarters of Europe’s buildings are energy inefficient by modern standards and many are heated using fossil fuels. That needs fixing under the EU’s plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The Commission plans to double the EU’s annual rate of energy-related building renovations, which is currently just 1%, upgrading 35 million buildings by 2030.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a statement, in Brussels, Belgium, 14 October 2020. Von der Leyen was awarded the Honorary Prize of the German Sustainability Award for her commitment to the ‘European Green Deal’, organizers of the award announced 14 October 2020. EPA-EFE/YVES HERMAN / POOL

“It’s not easy. It’s not just throwing money at it, we need to get the right regulation in place,” Frans Timmermans, Commission executive vice president for the European Green Deal, said on Wednesday.

Funding should prioritise renovations that tackle energy poverty, to support the 34 million Europeans struggling to pay heating bills, the Commission said. Other focus areas are public buildings and polluting heating systems.

Upgrading social housing alone would require an extra 57 billion euros ($67 billion) in annual investment, and EU support will come from a 672.5 billion euro section of its massive coronavirus economic recovery fund.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans addresses a joint news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 14 October 2020. EPA-EFE/FRANCOIS LENOIR / POOL

Further cash could come from carbon market revenues, while the European Investment Bank will back technical support for projects. The Commission will also rewrite state aid rules, allowing governments to boost national funding.

Central to the EU plan will be binding minimum energy performance standards for all existing buildings in Europe, as previously reported by Reuters.

The Commission will propose the standards next year, outlining the date for them to be introduced and the level of energy savings each building must achieve.

This would push building owners, such as commercial landlords, to meet the standard in order to rent out a property.

“This sends a very strong regulatory signal to the market … Until you renovate to the minimum acceptable level which society demands, you can’t generate an economic return,” said Peter Sweatman, chief executive of consultancy Climate Strategy & Partners.

($1 = 0.8527 euros)

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