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Four ways to tackle climate change in 2019 that policymakers can’t afford to ignore

By Katarzyna Wardal
January 29, 2019

What impact will the UK’s departure from the European Union have on Europe? Will the European Parliament be more fragmented after May’s elections? And what will be the priorities of the new European Commission?

We may not be able to predict the exact answers to these questions, but one thing is certain: this is a landmark year to really make a difference when it comes to tackling climate change and improving the energy efficiency of buildings.

Below are four exciting opportunities to create a more sustainable built environment. We hope policy-makers will make the most of them.

Put climate action at the heart of the budget talks

Opportunity: Discussions will continue this year into the European Union’s budget for 2021-27. MEPs have already called for an increase in climate change spending from the European Commission’s proposal of 25% of total budget to 30% to meet the EU’s Paris Agreement commitments.

Change for better: The International Energy Agency states that 76% of Europe’s emission reductions must come from energy efficiency to keep temperature increases under 1.5ºC. Clearly, building renovation has a pivotal role to play. Budget funds must be used to mobilise and leverage renovation investments that demonstrate real performance when it comes to energy savings. Real demonstrable savings can be scaled up.

Make a climate-neutral economy a reality by 2050

Opportunity: The European Commission has unveiled an ambitious ‘strategic vision’ to ensure a carbon neutral Europe by 2050. Key to this target is halving energy consumption by 2050 compared to 2005. Under the Paris Agreement, EU policymakers must submit a final strategy to the United Nations by 2020 showing how Europe will curb emissions

Change for better: Treating energy efficiency as Europe’s first fuel’, as suggested by the strategic vision, is a solid policy foundation. What does this mean? Investing in energy efficiency in all decisions about energy system development and prioritising investments whenever they would cost less or deliver more than building new supplies or networks. ‘Save before you build’ is irrefutable common sense.

Boost national pride in tackling emissions with renovation

Opportunity: EU Member States must submit their final National Energy and Climate Plans — or NECPs — by the end of this year. These plans are at the heart of the EU’s energy and climate targets. For example, each Member State needs to describe in its plan how much it will contribute to the EU target to reduce energy consumption by at least 32.5% by 2030. Each country is obliged to state how much national energy use will be saved through building renovation.

Change for better: This is a unique opportunity for Member States to reap the economic, social and health benefits of building renovation through well-designed national building renovation strategies that enable the transition of the building stock to a nearly-zero energy level. According to the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), a decarbonised building stock by 2050 requires a huge majority of EU buildings to be highly energy efficient, complying, at least, with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) label A. The BPIE’s analysis shows that 97.5% of Europe’s building stock is currently not in the A class, and must be upgraded.

Future-proof cities against climate change

Opportunity: Only 40% of EU cities have adapted plans to protect their residents from the impact of climate change. Cities are increasingly at risk from issues such as heavy storms and floods caused by global warming as well as air pollution and the impact of ‘heat island’ effect where urban environments are hotter than surrounding countryside.

Change for better: Under the new Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union, Member States are required to report to the Commission their national climate change adaptation strategies, outlining implemented and planned action to facilitate adaptation to climate change. In line with recommendations in the Commission’s strategic vision, a key solution must be a dramatic increase in green infrastructure such as green roofs and walls. This year is an ideal opportunity to rethink the way cities function and show real leadership in terms of new green infrastructure policies.