BLOG: The 11th hour of the EU Buildings Directive: Securing an ambitious & socially just energy transition for our homes and the planet.”

Energy transition

Written by Eva Brardinelli, Buildings Policy Expert at CAN Europe, and Mónica Vidal, Renewable Heating Campaigner at CAN Europe. 

Since the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) began, we have witnessed what was initially a promising legislation to decarbonise Europe’s largely inefficient building stock continuously being watered down. A EU policy framework that had so much potential to reduce our energy demand, lift millions of people out of energy poverty and play a significant role in mitigating the climate crisis has been left with little capacity for real change. 

This policy, and its revision, is needed to transform the places where we live, study and work and ultimately our daily lives, in view of the multiple benefits of energy renovation

As part of the “Build Better Lives” Campaign, our key demands for this pivotal Directive have always been to ensure that its provisions will create an ambitious and socially just pathway to climate neutrality in the built environment, while delivering under the Renovation Wave Strategy objectives. As we approach the conclusion for the EPBD’s revision, it is important policymakers reflect on the positive impact this Directive can have on people’s lives and work together to deliver an ambitious and just policy framework that can build better buildings today for better lives tomorrow. 

No more broken promises

As part of the most promising tools to upscale the currently very low energy renovation rates of the EU’s buildings sector, the Minimum Energy Performance Standards’ (MEPS) original aim was to signal mandatory renovations for the leakiest buildings. MEPS original architecture intended to tackle as many worst-performing buildings as possible in view of the incredible energy savings, and CO2 emissions cuts potential that their renovations would entail, but also, and especially, in view of the fight against energy poverty. The latter is a phenomenon on the rise, which affects over 42 million people in the EU, who struggle more and more to keep their home at a comfortable temperature in both winter and summer. 

Even though MEPS could have presented a win-win solution for a socially just and ambitious energy transition in the built environment (if coupled with adequate financing, technical assistance and social safeguards), the push against increasing their ambition has remained strong from the side of Member States. Following the developments of the last trilogue on MEPS, the EPBD will require Member States to design a trajectory for the progressive decrease of the average energy performance of homes in line with the fulfilment of the climate neutrality target of 2050, with intermediate milestones in 2030 and every other 5 years. 

As part of the provisional agreement, Member States will need to ensure that 55% of the decrease in the trajectory is achieved via the renovation of the leakiest buildings. Although a small focus has been placed on this segment, doubts remain as to how the implementation of this requirement will look like. Member States could for instance choose to go for the renovation of mid-performing buildings because they could be considered as “low-hanging fruits”, considering the wide pool to choose from. Also, it is still uncertain how these renovations will take place, or if any other measures besides renovations could be accounted for in the fulfilment of MEPS. 

In view of the latest developments and the uncertainty that surrounds the MEPS provisional agreement and its real life impact, it seems clear that policymakers will need to go the extra mile during this last trilogue to ensure that the remaining parts of the EPBD are revised as ambitiously as possible. Why do we need to stress that more ambition is needed to close the EPBD revision? Because improving energy efficiency in buildings is essential to reduce energy needs, which is instrumental to support a faster and more integrated decarbonisation of building’s heating and cooling systems

In order to achieve the goals set by the Paris Agreement, it is in fact essential to establish a clear date, no later than 2040, for the complete phase-out of fossil fuel use in our buildings. Although this goal won’t be sufficient alone to stay on track with the 1.5°C target. It must be supported by requirements that support deep renovations and the installation of only heating and cooling systems with the highest energy efficiency classes, against the installation of polluting and outdated technologies. This will be possible if a strong synergy between the Ecodesign Directive and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive is created, because their respective success will largely depend on the level of complementarity with one another. Without a robust EPBD, the potential of Ecodesign to drive the necessary changes could be hampered.

Planning for Success

Another important point that policymakers will need to keep in mind is that the success of the Renovation Wave will also depend on high quality long-term planning.  National Building Renovation Plans (NBRPs) are a key element to support Member States to design a transformative, ambitious and socially just journey of their national building stock towards climate neutrality.  These can for instance require Member States to keep a strong focus on worst-performing buildings by including targets for the reduction of energy poverty, which need to be supported by the design of policies and measures (i.e., financial programmes, technical assistance, social safeguards) and substantiated by data about how the phenomenon and how it is tackled at national level. 

NBRPs must also be designed to be more than a bureaucratic exercise. They must seek and support a meaningful engagement from all stakeholders involved in the renovation value chain (especially those representing and/or working with the most vulnerable). The more transparent and inclusive these plans are, they have the potential to empower citizens and local communities to actively contribute to the positive changes unfolding in their communities. By taking this approach, we will be sure to cultivate a stronger sense of community ownership, which should be naturally embedded in energy renovation, and a shared commitment to a sustainable and equitable future in our built environment for all generations to come.

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