17 December, 2021

The time to act is now to remedy Europes unsafe housing

Originally published on Parliament Magazine here


Renovation wave or ripple? The time to act is now, argues Martha Myers

Millions in energy poverty are still waiting on the EU tide to turn in their favour, says Friends of the Earth Europe Climate justice campaigner

As the gas crisis intensifies across Europe, millions more are at risk of energy poverty this winter. EU leaders continue to scramble for an adequate response but fail to see the opportunity that’s right in front of them: the Buildings Directive due next week. It’s time for the EU to go beyond solely damage control and deliver on their commitment to renovate 35 million homes and tackle one of the root causes of energy poverty: Europe’s mouldy, damp and unsafe housing.

Even before the energy crisis, one in four households in the EU were unable to sufficiently light, heat or cool their homes. Energy poverty continues to hit those living in Europe’s decrepit housing, those who have done the least to contribute to the climate crisis, yet are left bearing the brunt of the bill.

Damage control to shield vulnerable households this winter is crucial, but this alone won’t solve the energy crisis or eradicate energy poverty. What’s needed are long-term solutions to tackle one of the most significant causes of energy poverty: inadequate housing that’s bad for people’s health and energy bills.

Around 75 percent of the EU’s building stock is deemed inefficient and leads to an estimated annual public health burden of more than €140bn. But so far, leaders have given little more than lip service to address Europe’s leaky buildings while the latest leaks of the Buildings directive have failed to deliver the necessary regulation and funding to invest in deep renovation programmes – leaving vulnerable households in the cold.

“It’s time for the EU to go beyond solely damage control and deliver on their commitment to renovate 35 million homes and tackle one of the root causes of energy poverty: Europe’s mouldy, damp and unsafe housing”

Last year, the European Commission committed to tackle energy poverty by including 35 million home renovations in their 2020 Renovation Wave strategy. However, they still seem reluctant to actively cross the threshold into people’s homes according to current leaks of the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive due next week.

This would be a missed opportunity, as it is precisely inside our homes where the benefits of the Green Deal can, and should be, felt the most. The Green Deal has to be tangible and a part of the lived reality for EU citizens who play their part in climate resolutions.But there is a rising call to take action as an increasing number of grassroots activists across Europe demand governments insulate draughty housing in order to tackle climate emissions, reduce energy poverty and improve public health. The Right to Energy coalition brings together trade unions, NGOs and social justice groups and aims to put energy poverty on the legislative agenda and to push governments to subsidise renewables and renovation programmes for vulnerable households. The coalition has called on the EU to deliver on its commitment to deeply renovate energy poor households in a recent open letter to the Commission.

Reaching the Renovation Wave’s objectives would play a pivotal part in improving the lives and living conditions of millions of Europeans; studies show deep renovations can reduce household energy bills by more than €400 per year. And it’s not just people who would benefit; efficient housing will drastically cut our carbon emissions, reducing heating demand by 60 percent, and cut gas consumption by the equivalent of 25 of the world’s largest LNG gas carriers each year.

“Will the Commission act or miss the boat? The upcoming Buildings Directive revision is a crucial opportunity to demonstrate the most tangible benefits of the Green Deal, and directly improve people’s everyday lives, by alleviating energy poverty, cutting our carbon emissions and providing green, local jobs”

A clear way for the Commission to deliver on its promise is to deliver mandatory Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) in the residential sector to incentivise the deep renovation of worst performing buildings.

But MEPS alone will not tackle energy poverty. These must be complemented by social safeguards, ambitious targets for 2030 and a deep renovation standard to ensure decent, affordable housing for those households that need them most.

With the gas crisis serving as a stark warning, decision makers should realise that the time to act is now. The Renovation wave has to be more than a ripple and ensure that vulnerable people are not left on the shore. It would be a tragedy if the EU didn’t hold on to this life raft during the challenges brought on by the climate crisis.

Everybody deserves a dignified life – with access to affordable clean energy, in a decent home that doesn’t contribute to the climate crisis. Everybody deserves to feel the benefits and be a part of the EU Green Deal. It’s time to deliver deep renovations for energy poor households across Europe.

Read the most recent articles written by Martha Myers – Fit for 55 will raise bills for vulnerable Europeans