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Helene Sibileau-building renovation

Building Renovation: act now to improve lives and make our 2050 vision a reality

Why would you talk about 2050 to people currently living in damp, mouldy and leaky buildings, unable to adequately heat their homes and suffering from poor health? Well, there might be a link between what we strive for in the long-term and how we can improve the lives of millions in the short term. The link? Energy efficient building renovation. 

At the C4E Forum last year, I moderated a panel on energy poverty and how to alleviate it through building renovation – and I learnt a lot. At EU level in 2016, almost 9% of households were unable to keep their home adequately warm.[i] In the CEE countries, the picture gets even worse. 10 to 20% of households are at risk of energy poverty in Slovakia[ii], 40% in Bulgaria[iii]. In Poland, it is a daily reality for more than 4 million persons[iv]. Not only is energy poverty a hardship for people who are experiencing it, but it is also hampering society at large. In the Visegrad countries (Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) for instance, between €5 and €11 billion are spent every year on healthcare costs, due to the poor quality of housing.[v] Energy poverty, which is mainly due to the poor energy performance of housing, and disproportionately touches people with low income, is a European issue, and CEE countries are particularly affected.

In the past few years, energy poverty has been part of the discussions in Brussels regarding the revisions of EU legislation on energy performance of buildings. The issue is now part of the Long-term Renovation Strategy (LTRS) that each Member State shall establish in accordance with the amended Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). More specifically, Member States must give an overview of policies and actions targeting the worst performing segment of their building stock and outlining relevant national actions that contribute to the alleviation of energy poverty. But the LTRS is not only about energy poverty and some segments of the building stock – it serves a bigger purpose. And here it comes: the strategies shall support the renovation of the stock into a highly energy efficient and decarbonized building stock by 2050. We have a vision for how our buildings in Europe should be in 31 years’ time.

The amended EPBD has recognized that energy efficient building renovation is the solution linking what we want to achieve in the long-term, on one side, and what we can do to rapidly improve the lives of millions in the short-term, on the other side. If we have an ambitious vision for 2050, it will give a sense of direction to all of us, it will boost confidence in the market, spark actions immediately and make a difference to people’s lives now. Inversely, tackling buildings with the worst energy performance, where energy poverty is most prevalent, as soon as possible, will put us on the right track for our long-term objective. The perfect match. We have witnessed these past months some debates in Europe about possible clashing interests between sustainability and social justice. But with the right policies in place, such as programmes for energy renovating our worst performing buildings, we can achieve both: social improvements in the short term AND sustainability in the long-term.

So what do we do? “A little less conversation, a little more action please”. Or three little words: transposition, implementation, action. Member States have until 10th March 2020 to transpose the amended EPBD, and make both the 2050 vision and measures to alleviate energy poverty, a reality. It is quite a task for Member States, but they don’t start from scratch. In fact, establishing an LTRS is a provision stemming originally from the Energy Efficiency Directive, and two versions were already developed (2014 and 2017). Member States should not be shy but build on existing work to bring the ambition level higher. They should also rely on stakeholders, which they should now consult when drafting the strategy, to ensure that the right solutions are developed, that there is co-ownership of the strategy, therefore ensuring a proper rollout. To help in this process, EuroACE has developed its own Guide to EPBD Implementation (available online) to help Member States in thoroughly transposing EU provisions.

Inspiration can also be drawn directly from the national level, including in CEE countries, where some good projects and policies are in place and deliver benefits. In Bulgaria for example, programmes were put in place with the aim of improving air quality and fighting energy poverty – since 2015, around 200,000 apartments were renovated. In Croatia, thanks to the use of Energy Performance Contracting, hospitals and more than 200 public buildings were renovated to achieve high energy performance. In Czechia, revenues from the ETS fund are used for building renovation. In Poland, a Clean Air Programme has recently been put in place – it promised €25 billion to renovate four million homes over the next ten years![vi] Even though much still needs to be done, all these examples show that putting in place policies to trigger energy renovation of buildings (and deliver energy savings), is feasible and that it comes with many great benefits!

While the official deadline for submitting the LTRS is 10th March 2020, it would be more coherent to do it by 31st December 2019, in an integrated way with the National Energy & Climate Plans. This would ensure that the contribution of building renovation towards the longer term decarbonisation targets, which should deliver climate neutrality by 2050, is appropriately considered. And it would naturally make sense to strive for this, considering the EPBD objective of a “highly energy efficient and decarbonized building stock” by 2050. However, we have seen from the Draft NECPs that energy efficiency is not given the role it deserves.

When young climate activists take to the streets every week for months on end, they’re asking us to act now, in order to protect their future. Acting now means putting in place the right policies and appropriate financing for energy renovation of our buildings. Acting now means transposing the EPBD swiftly and focusing on things that matter - improving the life of millions who live in bad buildings. Acting now means getting ready for the new European Parliament and Commission, starting their mandates later this year. Acting now, to make the path towards our 2050 vision a reality.

[i] Alleviating energy poverty by building renovation, presentation at C4E Forum 2018 by Hanna SZEMZO, Metropolitan Research Institute

[ii] Smog, low income and housing, presentation at C4E Forum 2018 by Petr ROBL, Buildings for the Future

[iii] Alleviating energy poverty by building renovation, presentation at C4E Forum 2018 by Hanna SZEMZO, Metropolitan Research Institute

[iv] Poland’s clean air programme: pathway to climate neutrality?, eceee column by Brook RILEY, ROCKWOOL International

[v] Smog, low income and housing, presentation at C4E Forum 2018 by Petr ROBL, Buildings for the Future

[vi] Poland’s clean air programme: pathway to climate neutrality?, eceee column by Brook RILEY, ROCKWOOL International


Hélène SIBILEAU is Senior EU Affairs Manager at EuroACE, the European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings, where she works on EU policy and communication issues related to energy efficient buildings. She is also an External Lecturer at Sciences Po Strasbourg. A graduate of the College of Europe, where she wrote her Thesis on the EED, Hélène has worked in the European Commission on the EPBD.