Wednesday October 21, 2020

Comment: Ireland must retrofit homes — and do so at considerable scale

If we are going to drastically reduce climate change, end energy poverty and make homes warmer then deep retrofits of our building stock must happen

14th October, 2020
By increasing retrofits, the renovation wave will create more efficient homes for people at risk of energy poverty — meaning lower energy bills and warmer homes. Picture: Getty

Climate Change has rarely been off the front pages in both Dublin and Brussels this autumn. Ambition is set to translate into legislation in both jurisdictions.

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader and Minister for the Environment, launched the government’s climate action bill in early October. The same week the European Parliament voted for the first-ever climate law which commits the EU to reduce carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2030.

One of the many actions we need to take to meet these climate goals is maximising the energy efficiency of the EU building stock.

We already know that up to 40 per cent of the EU’s greenhouse gas emission stems from the building sector. A renovation wave across Ireland and the EU is urgently needed. One that has the potential to transform our EU wide building stock and make a positive impact on the climate.

As MEP for Dublin, I recently wrote a report for the European Parliament which outlines how the renovation wave can benefit people throughout the EU by upgrading our buildings. The report, backed by a large majority of MEPs in European Parliament, lays out the view that energy efficiency policies must be far more ambitious in effectively combatting energy poverty, stepping up climate action and fostering sustainable economic recovery.

Close to 50 million people in the EU were late or unable to pay their energy bills in 2019. Energy usage and costs have only increased during Covid-19 as many people are stuck facing another winter in inefficiently insulated buildings. By increasing retrofits, the renovation wave will create more efficient homes for people at risk of energy poverty — meaning lower energy bills and warmer homes.

Increased renovations also mean increased employment and more local jobs. This will not only be a welcomed boost for the construction sector but our renewable and digital industries as well — good news for post Covid-19 economic recovery.

Renovated homes are energy-efficient homes. The more efficient our buildings are, the less greenhouse gas they emit. This will help us meet our climate goals in the coming years.

To achieve this, we need significant resources made available in the EU’s Covid recovery package along with other existing funds to trigger deep renovations to foster a sustainable recovery.

I am delighted that the European Commission renovation wave strategy has incorporated much of my report’s recommendations on maximising energy efficiency. The Commission’s plan would see some 35 million buildings across Europe refurbished. Closer to home, EU action on the renovation wave reaffirms our own government’s national retrofit plan which aims to renovate 500,000 homes by 2030.

Homes in Ireland tend to be more poorly insulated compared to our Northern European neighbours. Many people, particularly those living in council housing, are living in cold, damp homes with high energy bills. If we are going to drastically reduce climate change, end energy poverty and make homes warmer deep retrofits of our building stock must happen.

As an architect and urban planner, I firmly believe a renovation wave can reduce energy poverty which has been worsened by the Covid crisis. A renovation wave can also tackle some of the most severe impacts of climate change, reduce our emissions and provide a jobs boost across Ireland and the EU.

The EU renovation wave provides a much-needed way forward to ensure success.

There is no time to waste.

Ciarán Cuffe is a Member of the European Parliament for the Dublin constituency

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