Policy papers

Build better for climate neutral cities

22 September 2021

Shelter, food, water. To secure our basic needs humans have long found ways to manipulate our environment. Now, with more than 7 billion people on the planet, more than half of which live in cities, the climate science tells us we must radically change the way we interact with our environment.

In Europe our buildings account for 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions. By 2050, when the EU anticipates climate neutrality across the 27 state bloc, 80% of today’s buildings will still be standing. Meanwhile, new ones will have been built.

It’s no exaggeration to acknowledge the huge impact of the built environment on our climate, and say that we need to make a profound shift towards low and zero emission buildings, as claimed in a new position paper by Eurocities, ‘Better buildings for climate neutral cities’.

Energy Performance

The EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive has, over the past 11 years, supported cities to deliver energy renovations and ensure new buildings meet nearly zero energy standards. The forthcoming revisions of this piece of legislation now represents a major opportunity to address energy efficiency, embodied carbon, affordability and standards for old and new buildings to meet the EU’s updated climate objectives of climate neutrality by 2050, according to the cities network.

Portrait of Eugenia Masutti
Eugenia Mansutti, Policy Advisor on Energy, Eurocities

First up on the list of priorities set out by Eurocities is to establish a clear roadmap to achieving zero emissions by 2050. “This should be done by introducing a European framework for the Minimum Energy Performance Standard of buildings,” says Eugenia Mansutti, Policy Advisor for Eurocities. “We need to see successive and predictable increases in the lead up to 2050 so that local and regional governments, as well as industry and households, can prioritise investments and make workable plans,” she adds.

Cities manage extensive portfolios of buildings, from schools and libraries, to housing units. And to cope with growing needs these portfolios are expanding in many cases – such as in Muenster, which has seen a roughly one third increase in its property portfolio since the 1990s.

As our cities continue to expand, setting standards for new builds is equally important to standards for the renovation of older ones. And Eurocities points out that these considerations should be extended to all residential and non-residential buildings.

No to energy poverty

“The energy transition represents an opportunity to improve access to better quality housing,” says Mansutti. “We want to see renovation costs balanced as far as possible with energy savings. This will mean paying special attention to the most in-need and at-risk households, but crucially will mean that more people are shielded from energy poverty as we chart the course to climate neutrality.”

The current energy poverty regulations in member states’ National Energy and Climate Plans and Long-term Renovation Strategies are insufficient as the key instruments to identify households at risk of energy poverty, however, so Eurocities argues for more support at local level to replicate successful initiatives such as in Vienna, where one aim has been to ensure rent increases are fully balanced by energy savings to achieve housing cost neutrality following renovations.

Local efficiency

Local one stop shops, such as Antwerp’s Ecohouse, play a key role in providing advice on energy efficiency and coordinating renovation projects. They can also be important sounding boards to encourage people to start renovation projects in the first place.

To ensure that more cities can follow the kinds of examples shared above, Eurocities suggests that there should be dedicated EU, national and regional funding.

As well as earmarking specific funding for energy poor, at-risk and in-need households to overcome economic barriers to renovations, Eurocities contends that the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive is a chance to give a further boost to the sustainable transition by introducing mandatory targets for privately accessible charging points in residential and commercial properties.

Read the full paper on the energy performance of buildings here.