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Mechthild Wörsdörfer: Buildings renovation & energy efficiency, at the heart of EU recovery plans

Mechthild Wörsdörfer is the Deputy Director-General, European Commission Directorate-General for Energy (DG Energy). She joined the 2022 GlobalABC Annual Assembly, as this coincided with a Ministerial meeting on housing organized under the French presidency of the European Council in Nice. This happy coincidence allowed her to share in person many important messages with the audience.

Mrs. Wörsdörfer first mentioned the full support being provided to the Ukrainian people and its government, from a humanitarian perspective but also from that of energy, with the EU DG Energy’s focus on affordable, secure energy in the context of this war. She underscored the importance of accelerating efforts on energy efficiency in buildings and industry, in renewables and other low carbon technologies as critical in the current context, in parallel with reinforcing the security of the supply and reducing energy dependence, in particular on gas.

I think [the GlobalABC Annual Assembly] is a timely event because everything we can do for energy efficiency and also in particular everything we can do to decarbonize our buildings is something the Commission has been working on for many many reasons for many years, and it's not only because there's a lot of emphasis on our production of greenhouse gas emissions, but it's also to improve air quality, to create jobs and economic growth.

Mechthild Wörsdörfer

Decarbonization and inclusion

Mrs. Wörsdörfer reminded that, in Europe, buildings account for 40% of the energy consumption and about one third of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, while rising energy costs hit the most vulnerable citizens first. “Often, inefficient buildings are synonymous with energy poverty and social problems. Security of supply and reducing our dependence on gas which is used very much in heating is now of strategic importance”, she explained.

The European official pointed to the extensive work already done by the European Commission on energy efficiency in buildings, particularly with the European Green Deal which has been a top priority since its inception in 2019, including energy efficiency - notably in the buildings sector.

With the goal for the European Union of all its 27 member states reaching carbon neutrality in 2050, the European Commission has increased its ambition, because the focus is very much on what can be achieved this decade already.

Buildings renovation

Insufficient renovation rate is a common issue faced by all countries in the EU and elsewhere. “The Commission has the objective of doubling the renovation rates during the next decade. This deep renovation will contribute to the target of decreasing 55% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030”, she explained.

With more than 75 % of the existing buildings in Europe are older than 20 or more years, the Commission has proposed for the first time the introduction of minimum energy performance standards called MEPS, which will trigger the renovation of the lowest performing buildings. Those MEPS will apply to both private and public, non-residential as well as residential buildings.

Financing climate action

Another crucial element for buildings decarbonization is financing. The Commission is looking at everything possible to support member states in overcoming financial barriers to renovation. Significant resources from the EU budget have been made available, what is referred to as the EU recovery and resilience facility was created last year to help member states to come out of the COVID crisis, and already 60 billion euros out of that have been committed to energy efficiency and building renovation measures across the different EU member states. Most of the EU member states have put renovation & energy efficiency measures at the heart of their recovery plans. A significant part of those projects will also focus on social and affordable housing.

As Mrs. Wörsdörfer stressed, the Commission will try to accelerate its public financial support but this not sufficient on its own, as it is also required that the private sector invest massively.

Societal and collateral approaches

With 75 % of Europeans living in cities, the action puts a special focus on increasing the sustainability of the build environment in urban areas, and this requires a societal approach of fostering more sustainable behaviors and ways of life. Renovation needs to increase dramatically, not only for those who can afford it but also for those vulnerable and all other citizens.

An example of a collateral approach is to strengthen the requirement for the rollout of charging infrastructure for electric vehicles in residential and commercial buildings. This links buildings to transport and mobility. “To encourage the switch to electric vehicles, we need the charging infrastructure and we need the buildings to be ready to provide that”, she underlined.

We have that intertwined priority of sustainability and quality of life and that's a little bit where we are with the renovation wave and what we call the European Bauhaus”, she added.

Collaboration and partnerships

The European Commission is working very much internationally, leading both on policy and  financially, but also sharing best practices among member states and countries outside of the region.

The Commission's role is often to facilitate that exchange with Morocco, with India and many others around the world. The Commission is also working with international organisations. To boost energy efficiency in buildings, there are common challenges, action needs to be incentivized through legislation, improved access to finance and increased technical assistance and information.

Those multiple actions required to renovate buildings and do more for buildings is not an easy task in terms of communication. In that context, we are very happy with the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction and all their work they're doing”, she added.