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Renovation must drive post-pandemic climate action

By Pauline Pelous
June 05, 2020

For a few weeks at the height of the COVID-19 crisis we were reminded of what a low-pollution, low-carbon world could look like as sunlight-choking smog dissolved into crystal clear skies.

Now as the world focuses on rebuilding economies ravaged by the pandemic and today is World Environment Day, we should use this blue-sky vision to inspire us. We need to focus on what really matters — driving a green recovery driven by an uncompromising desire to tackle climate change.

At the height of the pandemic, greenhouse gas emissions fell dramatically as energy demand plunged, borders closed, transport came to a halt and populations went into lockdown. In April, daily emissions worldwide were 17% below the same time last year.

Annual emissions down 8%

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), COVID-19 represented the “biggest shock to the global energy system in more than seven decades” with a record annual decline in carbon emissions of almost 8%.

However, as Dr Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director, pointed out: “When this crisis passes the world economy will bounce back. Emissions must not.”

It is view shared by many. In a recent poll of 14 countries in the G20 group of the world’s largest economies, an average of 65% of respondents said that climate change should be prioritised in the economic recovery after coronavirus.

Climate change has not gone away

Emissions may be expected to fall by historic amounts this year, but that does not mean climate change has gone away. This year will simply be a pause. To keep on track with the Paris Agreement’s goal of ensuring the world is only 1.5ºC warmer than the before the Industrial Revolution is going to require a huge commitment to decarbonisation.

COVID-19 has devastated the world and decimated economies, but from this terrible crisis comes opportunity, an opportunity to rally global support for something that everyone can believe in — a genuinely better world — driven by climate action.

Reviving economies that are staggering down the long road to recovery is going to take vision and money. Now is the time to channel money from carbon taxes, low interest loans, government support and European Union funding into a giant recovery project that will boost growth, create jobs, reduce emissions and transform the lives.

That project is an ambitious international initiative to renovate Europe’s buildings.

Buildings produce 36% of Europe’s emissions

Buildings consume 40% of Europe’s energy and produce 36% of its emissions. Knauf Insulation has always supported an ambitious approach to energy efficient building renovation initiatives and now more than ever it is time to scale up.

Around 35% of Europe’s buildings are over 50 years old; almost 75% of the building stock is energy inefficient, while annual renovation rates vary from country to country from between 0.4% to 1.2%.

It is time to be ambitious and triple those percentages for the benefit of the 18 million construction jobs that contribute 9% to Europe’s GDP; for the benefit of the creation of hundreds of thousands of new construction SMEs that will be needed to service demand; for the benefit of the 50 million Europeans who struggle to pay their energy bills and, ultimately, for the benefit of the environment.

We need to unlock funding for renovation

The European Commission wants Europe to be the first zero-net carbon continent in the world by 2050 and in a package of proposals known as the Green Deal announced last year it called for a “renovation wave” and an at “least doubling” of renovation rates. We have to be more ambitious. And we have to unlock the funding needed to realise this ambition.

On May 27, the European Commission unveiled its ‘Next Generation EU’ proposal for Europe’s post-pandemic economic recovery backed by €1.85 trillion of “financial firepower”. That firepower should be aimed squarely at boosting renovation in every EU Member State.

MEPs and national policymakers should demand a generous slice of that finance to be dedicated to significant renovation recovery programmes in their countries.

If post-COVID-19 financial packages are not focused on transforming our buildings we will miss a once-in-a-generation opportunity. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of community, solidarity and what really brings us together — caring for one another. We need to capitalise on this positivity and create a legacy that demonstrates epoch-defining responsibility.

In the words of the United Nations World Environment Day: “These are exceptional times in which nature is sending us a message. It’s time to wake up. To take notice. It’s time to build back better for People and Planet.”

It’s time for an ambitious renovation wave inspired by climate action.

• In 2010 Knauf Insulation committed to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020. We achieved this target four years before deadline in 2016. In 2018 we further reduced CO2 by 1.4% compared to the previous year.