The European Green Deal is a major new commitment from the EU to tackle urgent environment-related challenges on the way to a climate-neutral economy by 2050. Eugenio Quintieri of the European Builders Confederation looks at the implications for the built environment
On 11 December, the European Commission published its Communication on the European Green Deal, which displays an initial roadmap of the key policies and measures needed to implement both the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. With the ambition to put the European Union (EU) on track to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the new European Commission (EC) President Ursula von der Leyen vowed to “leave no one behind” in the race to achieve a climate neutral economy by 2050.
Several targets of the European Green Deal directly touch upon the construction sector, with circular economy and building renovation as flagship elements, under the overarching objective to become a climate neutral Europe. This includes the launch of new initiatives, as well as the review of current legislation and policies, especially in terms of their enforcement and efficient implementation.
We at the European Builders Confederation (EBC) consider the following points as particularly relevant for the whole construction value chain, and specifically for our construction SMEs and craftsmen.
Climate ambition for 2030 and 2050
With regard to increasing the EU’s climate ambition for 2030 and 2050, the European Commission put forward a proposal for a climate law that will enshrine the 2050 climate neutrality objective in legislation, ensuring that all EU policies contribute to the climate neutrality objective and that all sectors play their part. This will also include a proposal by the European Commission to cut emissions by 50-55% by 2030.
Moreover, the EC foresees a review and possible revision, where necessary, of all climate-related policy instruments, including a possible extension of the European Emission Trading System (ETS) to “buildings”.
The ETS is a system that sets a cap for the total amount of emissions for certain greenhouse gases, reduced over time, within which companies receive or buy emission allowances they can trade with one another as needed, with a limited total number of allowances. This system already applies for the production of certain construction products such as cement, metals, glass, aluminium, ceramics and steel. The possible extension foreseen in the Green Deal could include the whole building or more concretely the heating and cooling systems of buildings.
Mobilising industry for a clean and circular economy
Under the title “Mobilising industry for a clean and circular economy”, the European Commission plans the adoption of a new circular economy action plan to stimulate the development of lead markets for climate neutral and circular products, including the consideration of legal requirements to boost the market of secondary raw materials with mandatory recycled content in construction; and to strengthen the extended producer responsibility, which expands the responsibility of producers to the whole lifecycle of their product, including recycling or reuse at the end of the product’s life. In addition, a proposal on further legislation and guidance on green public purchasing, to boost environmental criteria in public procurement is under consideration.
In fact, building and renovating in an energy and resource-efficient way is meant to be one of the cornerstones of the EU Green Deal. The key objective for the European Commission is to “at least double or even triple” the renovation rate of buildings, which currently stands at around 1%. In this sense, the EC will conduct an assessment of Member States’ national long-term renovation strategies to ensure that the legislation related to the energy performance of buildings is rigorously enforced.
Furthermore, a review process of the Construction Products Regulation is foreseen to ensure that the design of new and renovated buildings is in line with the needs of the circular economy at all stages and leads to increased digitalisation and climate-proofing of the building stock.
Pursuing green finance and investment
Another important point of the European Green Deal deals with pursuing green finance and investment, as well as ensuring a just transition. Within its frame, the European Commission strives to present a Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, which will combine dedicated financing to support sustainable investments. This will be reinforced through a proposal for a 25% target for climate mainstreaming across all EU programmes.
Mobilising research and fostering innovation
Along the same lines, mobilising research and fostering innovation is a central element of the Green Deal. At least 35% of the budget of the upcoming Horizon Europe (proposed €100bn Research & Innovation programme to succeed Horizon 2020) is dedicated to fund new solutions for the climate. Partnerships with industry and Member States will also be set up to support Research & Innovation on the built environment. This public-private partnership called Build4People is currently developed by different actors of the built environment at the European level with EBC taking a leading role.
European Competence Framework
Regarding education and training, the EU announced the preparation of a European Competence Framework for schools, training institutions and universities to help develop and assess knowledge, skills and attitudes related to climate change and sustainable development. This framework will also entail the supply of support materials and facilitate the exchange of good practices in EU networks of teacher-training programmes.
European Social Fund+ (ESF+)
Also, the proposed European Social Fund+ (ESF+) is supposed to play an important role in proactive reskilling and upskilling. In line with this approach is the EU-funded project Construction Blueprint for Skills, which brings together employers, trade unions and training centres for a skills review exercise in construction, focusing specifically on future needs in energy efficiency, digitisation and circular economy.
Eugenio Quintieri, EBC secretary general, stressed: “The Green Deal offers a great opportunity to holistically face the European Union’s urgent climate and environmental challenges. However, it has to be transformed into concrete actions to fully exploit the enormous potential of the built environment in terms of circular economy, energy efficiency and overall sustainability.
“We are all engaged to establish a permanent dialogue with the European institutions to ensure that the right combination of policy measures and targeted funding will leave no one behind, especially not our construction SMEs and craftsmen who are ready to contribute to this paradigmatic shift.”
The future initiatives and policy developments related to the European Green Deal are likely to have a large impact on the way in which environmental challenges are considered and addressed in the sector, which is why EBC looks forward to cooperating with the European institutions and all construction stakeholders for a real shift towards a sustainable built environment and competitive construction sector.
European Builders Confederation
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