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Euroviews. European leaders must deliver a renovation wave that leaves no one stranded

Workers install solar planers on the roof of a house in Rivas Vaciamadrid, September 2022
Workers install solar planers on the roof of a house in Rivas Vaciamadrid, September 2022 Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
By Laia Segura, Friends of the Earth Europe and Javier Tobías, ECODES
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Energy poverty is falsely seen as an individual problem when in fact, it’s a systemic issue of structural inequality and disempowerment, Laia Segura and Javier Tobías write.

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Even before the energy crisis struck, 50 million people across the European Union were living in energy poverty, unable to adequately light, heat or cool their homes, choosing between heating and eating. 

Renovating the EU's worst-performing homes, those that waste the highest quantity of energy — and often housing the most vulnerable families — will help tackle housing exclusion and improve living conditions.

Fixing Europe’s housing is key to eradicating energy poverty. 

With 75% of Europe’s buildings deemed inefficient and 40% of our energy consumption taken by our homes, it seems obvious that housing renovations should be a priority for the bloc's leaders.

This year is crucial to the well-being of millions

With the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive or EPBD coming to an end, 2023 could be a watershed moment for the well-being of millions of citizens. 

Europeans cannot afford to let valuable heat escape in the winter or let it creep in during summer.

High indoor temperatures can be even more harmful, causing increased mortality rates during heat waves.
Petar Petrov/AP
Jordanka Dimitrichkova who lives alone at her home in a suburb of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, brings in wood for her wood-burning stove, January 2009Petar Petrov/AP

Indecent housing leads to dampness, which can cause respiratory health issues, and cold living environments can worsen cardiovascular diseases. 

Carbon monoxide poisoning and other intoxications go hand in hand with outdated temperature control methods using wood and coal, and/or fossil fuels. 

Still, high indoor temperatures can be even more harmful, causing increased mortality rates during heat waves.

No one should be made to live in inadequate housing

The EPBD has the potential to offer a long-term solution to address energy poverty and improve living conditions for millions of Europeans. 

This opportunity must be seized by prioritising the renovation of worst performing homes of vulnerable households and ensuring no one is locked into inefficient homes with dirty and outdated heating and cooling technologies. 

"MEPS need to be implemented ... to ensure the renovations benefit those who need them the most and don’t leave them stranded.
Amel Emric/AP
Elma Avdic, 4, peers from the window of her old family house near the Bosnian town of Kalesija, 130 kms north of Sarajevo, February 2012Amel Emric/AP

Housing renovation incentives have been offered for decades, yet renovation rates are far below what is needed, particularly when considering the number of households faced with energy poverty.

Regulatory measures, including Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) throughout the residential sector, binding standards on indoor air quality and phasing out fossil fuels, are all necessary parts of the push. 

To ensure the EPBD covers vulnerable families, MEPS need to be implemented alongside strong social safeguards and adequate outreach and funding programs to ensure the renovations benefit those who need them the most and don’t leave them stranded.

Energy efficiency and comfort for all

MEPS require buildings to meet a minimum energy efficiency standard within a certain period, giving them the potential to boost renovations in Europe’s most draughty and leaky buildings.

However, amongst the positive proposals within the EPBD, catastrophic exclusions are creeping in.

Negotiators have proposed a range of exemptions that will exclude some households from receiving renovations, meaning some of the people who need them most will see their dreams go up in thin air.

Allowing member states to be selective and exclude large percentages of the worst-performing buildings from the renovation plans drastically limits the directive's ability to lift millions out of energy poverty.

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Homes that have so far been ignored in renovation efforts will continue to be left out.

A key question EU decision-makers need to address when considering each and every single exemption is who is the renovation wave for and who is being excluded?
AP Photo/Darko Bandic
The European Council President Charles Michel and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speak at the end of an EU Summit in Prague, October 2022AP Photo/Darko Bandic

A key question EU decision-makers need to address when considering each and every single exemption is who is the renovation wave for and who is being excluded? 

Overlooking MEPS for residential buildings means overlooking the EPBD’s potential to tackle some of the structural inequalities of our housing system. 

To actually protect the energy poor, provide decent housing for all and be a way out of the energy crisis, the EPBD needs MEPS for residential buildings with stronger social safeguards.

Fossil fuels for no one

The energy crisis has shown us how exposed we are to the fossil fuel industry's volatile prices. 

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It’s time to stop lining the fossil fuel industry's pockets and start protecting ourselves by accelerating the energy transition, strengthening citizen engagement in the energy system and fully decarbonising our homes.

Fossil fuel-based heating will become more expensive as infrastructure costs will be carried by a smaller number of homes, price volatility increases and the application of carbon taxations to households.
JAVIER SORIANO/AFP or licensors
An employee of the company EngelSolar holds a solar panel in Boadilla del Monte near Madrid, December 2022JAVIER SORIANO/AFP or licensors

Renewable heating and cooling solutions on the market are numerous and are becoming increasingly affordable, offering comfortable home temperatures no matter the climate. 

We need an EPBD that delivers these solutions into our homes by creating a policy framework that helps EU Member States rapidly scale up programmes that let households take advantage of energy savings and renewables.

Fossil fuel-based heating will become more expensive as infrastructure costs will be carried by a smaller number of homes, price volatility increases and the application of carbon taxations to households.

We need to lift millions out of energy poverty — and EPBD can do that

Opening the door to maintaining heating systems that use gas, with the excuse of alternatives like "renewables-ready" systems, including hydrogen, will not serve vulnerable or low-income households. 

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It will leave them locked into using expensive, dirty, and dangerous fossil fuels, which won’t offer cheaper bills.

JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP
A Berlin resident cooks dinner on a gas stove in the German capital in 2009JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP

To lift millions of people out of energy poverty, we need ambitious MEPS standards with strong social safeguards and a decarbonised heating and cooling system for all.

We need an EPBD that unleashes its full potential to help solve the housing and climate crisis. 

Laia Segura from Friends of the Earth Europe and Javier Tobías from ECODES are part of the Right to Energy coalition, representing one of Europe’s largest groups fighting to eradicate energy poverty, bringing together trade unions, anti-poverty groups, social housing providers, NGOs, environmental campaigners, health organisations and energy cooperatives across Europe.

_At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at view@euronews.com to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.
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