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Why Europe’s buildings can play a critical role in addressing the ongoing energy crisis

The ongoing war in Ukraine has brought suffering and tragedy on a scale many of us thought and hoped not to see in Europe in our lifetimes. It has also underscored the urgent need to tackle energy security and reduce reliance on fossil fuels on a global scale.

As a large exporter of fossil fuels, Russia has disproportionate control over global energy supply. In fact, the EU imports as much as 45% of its natural gas from Russia.

In the wake of the invasion, the EU has published a new energy plan called REPowerEU to address the crisis and move Europe’s energy systems towards a more resilient and green future that is far less reliant on Russian fossil fuels.

However, the role of buildings and infrastructure in addressing the crisis has been largely overlooked. Ahead of the final energy plan, to be released in the second half of May, WorldGBC is calling on the EU  to rectify this oversight, by drawing attention to how accelerating building renovation can massively reduce the EU’s energy consumption.

Buildings can play a central role in tackling the crisis

Governments and industry are currently scrambling to find alternative sources of energy, and the EU has just signed a deal with the US to import liquefied natural gas. But buildings all across Europe offer a hugely cost-effective way to bolster energy security.

An increase in efficiency in our buildings reduces reliance on external resources and unlocks additional benefits such as more comfortable homes and improved indoor air quality; a factor that has been spotlighted since COVID-19. And of course lowering energy bills is particularly important as homeowners across Europe are grappling with soaring energy prices caused by the crisis.

Buildings account for 40% of Europe’s energy consumption, and it has been estimated that as many as 97% of Europe’s buildings require upgrades to improve their energy efficiency. The expertise and technology to do so is widely available right now, making building renovation one of the most important and most readily implementable solutions to address this emergency.

A major renovation programme can also help address some of Europe’s other pressing social challenges. For example it helps tackle energy poverty; a reality faced by an estimated 36 million people in the EU who cannot afford to keep their homes adequately heated.

The economic benefits for communities don’t stop there. Through these investments, jobs are created and local businesses employed. In fact, it has been calculated that for every €1 million invested in energy renovation of buildings, an average of 18 jobs are created in the EU.

WorldGBC is working with its network to accelerate action

Climate change, like the current situation in Ukraine, is a global crisis. WorldGBC has been advocating for 20 years for sustainable buildings, but the current crisis has brought into sharp focus the need to accelerate ambition and action.

We are working with our global network of 70+ Green Building Councils to develop solutions that tackle the greenhouse gas emissions of buildings and reduce their energy usage.

For example, eight Green Building Councils (GBCs) in our Europe network recently concluded working with over 30 cities across Europe to develop and test a tool that offers governments a template to measure the impact of their renovation schemes. The final BUILD UPON Framework includes 13 indicators that encompass environmental, social, and economic indicators, allowing officials to demonstrate how renovation is making energy savings as well as tackling energy poverty and creating jobs.

In this way, the Framework can serve as a vital tool to help address the issue of poor quality data on retrofit, which will be vital to delivering the EU’s promised Renovation Wave of 35 million homes by 2030.

For our part, WorldGBC is advocating for the European Commission to place a far greater emphasis on building renovation in its energy and crisis response plans, recognising the full potential of retrofit to deliver energy security, eliminate reliance on fossil fuels and contribute in a meaningful way to halt global warming.

Stephen Richardson is Director of WorldGBC’s Europe Regional Network.