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The EU strategy to become CO2 neutral by 2050 and the role of housing

A Housing Europe Analysis

Brussels, 7 December 2018 | Published in Energy

While the UN members are discussing in Katowice about concrete rules to implement the 2015 agreement on climate (rulebook on monitoring CO2 emissions and finance for climate change adaptation), the European Commission has published on 28th November its strategy to make the continent CO2 neutral by 2050. We outline below the key points in a Housing Europe Analysis.

The strategy encompasses elements which have a direct impact on the built environement. Here are the 6 pillars of the strategy :

  1. Maximise the benefits from Energy Efficiency including zero emission buildings
  2. Maximise the deployment of renewables and the use of electricity to fully decarbonize Europe’s energy supply
  3. Embrace clean, safe and connected mobility
  4. A competitive EU industry and the circular economy as key enablers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  5. Develop an adequate smart network infrastructure and inter-connections
  6. Reap the full benefits of bio-economy and create essential carbon sinks

Regarding the energy efficiency in buildings, the European Commission notes that « to achieve and sustain higher renovation rates, adequate financial instruments to overcome existing market failures, sufficient workforce with the right skills and affordability for all citizens are of central importance ».

The European Commission's own scenarios for a CO2 neutral economy indeed rely on a renovation rate of buildings of 1.5-1.8 %.

2 missing links: neighbourhoods and the facilitator approach

Providers of social, cooperative and public housing all over Europe have already embraced the energy transition as shown by statistics on energy consumption and CO2 emissions in the building sector: on average in the EU, 20% of CO2 emissions in the built environment over the time 2005-2015 and an average 2,3% decrease per year of the energy consumption of the building stock (compared to 0,3% in the transport sector).

The experience in the sector shows that the next phase is about looking at neighbourhoods (such as the Venning ECO-Life project in Kortrijk) rather than buildings only, because it is where the true integrated approach called for by the European Commission will take place and be the most effective in terms of CO2 emissions. In this neighbourhood approach, social, cooperative and public housing providers can play a key role. But funding can be a stumbling block. A recent Housing Europe study on the financing of renovation highlights the key role of public finance. It is clear that the energy transition won’t be successful if the public investment for social, cooperative and public housing continues to decrease as it is the case since 2009.

Besides the necessary focus on neighbourhoods, social support is essential. To activate social support we need simplicity. This is as valid for the social housing sector as for the homeowners. Simplicity means indeed to offer simple solutions for complex issues. This can be called the facilitator approach.  This approach has been best developed so far in 2 ways :

  • Energiesprong/Stromversnelling: they have created Market Development Teams that help bring together housing providers and construction/renovation companies. Those teams (now in France and United Kingdom) push companies to offer packaged solutions for the renovation of social housing. Both governments are currently discussing about how to have such facilitators for the renovation of public buildings.
  • Île-de-France Énergies (formerly known as Energie positIF) in France is a public third party financing entity in the Paris Greater Region which providers homeowners with advice, subsidies for audits, and loans

Combining the focus on neighbourhoods with the facilitator approach will help decrease CO2 emissions and energy consumption at greater scale. Housing Europe encourages the European Commission to take concrete initiatives that will support this ambition.

Housing Europe is committed to help its members through European projects to improve their practices and skills about some of the new frontiers for social housing: zero emission neighbourhoods, circular economy (Houseful), putting users' acceptance and involvment at the center (Triple-A Reno), combining energy renovation with intelligent energy management system (HEART).