Written by 2:04 am EU Investment

The missing piece in Europe’s energy crisis response – POLITICO

Ada Colau is the mayor of Barcelona. Giuseppe Sala is the mayor of Milan. They are vice-chairs of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.

As temperatures start dropping across the Continent, we’re collectively bracing for a winter season during which millions of residents won’t be able to pay their energy bills or keep their homes warm.

This shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

And while it’s great news that the European Union is initiating emergency interventions to combat dramatic price rises, for a truly just and sustainable crisis response, more can be done — and done quickly. With the help of Europe’s cities, an unprecedented wave of home energy efficiency upgrades across the Continent could ensure at least 6 million low-income households benefit in the next year.

By investing in energy efficiency — starting with social housing — we could reduce the cost of heating and cooling for the most vulnerable, while also supporting Europe in achieving its climate goals.

At present, we are still in a situation where three quarters of the EU’s buildings have poor energy performance, leaking heat in the winter and struggling to stay cool in the summer, with less than 1 percent of the bloc’s building stock being renovated each year. Our homes are currently responsible for a significant share of Europe’s overall gas use, contributing to both higher carbon emissions and exorbitant energy bills.

By upgrading 6 million homes a year to as close to a net-zero standard as possible, we can more than triple the current rate of renovations — provided all parts of government and the private sector work together. This would ensure that all social housing and public buildings are net-zero by 2030, that they provide direct financial relief for the most vulnerable and bring down the environmental impact of one of our most polluting sectors.      

Cities have long been spearheading these efforts to upgrade homes. C40 cities’ emergency plan, for example, outlines how to tackle energy poverty by delivering energy saving home upgrades, installing renewable energy solutions — such as solar panels and heat pumps — and providing financial relief for residents.

Along these lines, Barcelona aims to renovate 10,000 apartments over the next three years. And in Milan, through upgrades made to multi-family homes as part of a 2020 pilot project, greenhouse gas emissions are being cut by a third and energy costs by almost a quarter.

Yet, we could still do so much more as part of a larger coordinated effort with member countries at the national level.

For too long, Europe has relied on polluting, expensive and volatile fossil gas, which doesn’t allow it to control its own energy supply or combat climate change. Now, we’re experiencing the painful consequences of decades of underinvestment in making our homes, schools, hospitals and workplaces more energy efficient, and in failing to scale up renewable energy sources. But there’s no more time to lose, and cities are ready to act.

We need to make upgrading our homes central to our crisis response. And we, therefore, call on all member countries to join us in our efforts to upgrade at least 6 million social and low-income homes to net-zero each year.

This target can also help deliver the good, green jobs we need to build a clean economy and improve people’s quality of life. Renovating homes for energy efficiency represents one of the single biggest job creation opportunities in Europe, creating three times the number of jobs as investment in fossil gas. According to recent C40 research, 680,000 jobs could be created and maintained by 2030 in Italian cities alone, by retrofitting existing homes and buildings.

And these good green jobs must also be good paying ones for those who need it the most, with training and green jobs programs made available to help access these roles. We also need to deliver our emergency plans together with workers and their representatives, ensuring social dialogue and inclusive decision making.

Cities have the solutions to use this crisis as a historic turning point and enable Europe to develop a green, resilient and affordable energy system. With its REPowerEU plan, the bloc has rightly doubled down on its renewables and energy efficiency targets, and now it’s on us to turn these targets into reality.

Cities are typically much closer to their residents, as they’re often already working with them on energy services, and they’re able to more efficiently coordinate with neighborhoods to carry out home upgrades. Cities are often already working with housing providers, and they know where and which communities are in most need. But they cannot deliver what is needed alone.

Europe’s nations now have a huge opportunity to work with cities to triple the rate of net-zero home upgrades to 3 percent per year, as part of their national recovery and resilience plans — something that would ensure cities can access the funds required for the task.

As Europe’s governments and heads of state come together to flesh out a response to the energy crisis, we can no longer afford to neglect one of the most effective and urgent policies to tackle the root causes of energy poverty. And our cities stand ready to work. They are ready to work with EU institutions and national governments to roll out a large-scale, coordinated wave of renovation, which will cushion the impacts of spiraling energy prices and deliver a sustainable and just solution to the energy crisis.

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