Written by Anita Derjanecz

The EU economy is forecasted to shrink by 7.4% this year with an uneven economic impact across the EU and the different economic sectors. The HVAC sector, which stared 2020 over expectations according to many industry representatives, was not among the most hit sectors during the crisis, although the impact of recession in the construction sector is yet to be seen. Still, as a key sector providing key equipment and services for crucial facilities, the HVAC and building sectors shall remain a strategic player in the post-covid economy and society.

This pandemic highlighted the importance of good indoor air quality and increased the awareness of “heathy buildings” among policy makers and the public. REHVA has been advocating for coupling improved indoor climate quality with increased energy performance and define minimum IEQ criteria when doing deep energy renovation. Buildings must be built for the people spending their lives in them, we need buildings that provide healthy indoor environment while being as energy efficient as possible.  Well-designed and operated technical buildings systems are key to provide clean air and comfort in buildings and that can contribute to the mitigation of health risks in critical times like the current public health crisis. We look in this post at recent promising policy developments in the European Union that show a further step in this direction.

The EU Green recovery plan

The European Commission presented a Green recovery plan on 27 May to respond to the economic recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic and to address the shortcomings exposed by the crisis. European leaders managed to back a plan providing additional financial resources to tackle  the challenge. The EC Communication titled “Europe's moment: “Repair and Prepare for the Next Generation details a €1.85 trillion recovery plan that defines new instruments and financial sources (including €750 billion borrowed by the EU on the financial markets), linked with a revamped EU budget. How green the recovery plan will be without much green strings and binding requirements is questioned by environmental and climate NGOs. In addition, the implementation will depend much on Member State governments that will channel the Recovery and Resilience Facility. However, both the Commission and the European Parliament declared the political will to put the Green Deal at the heart of the European recovery strategy and there is good news from some EU member states. The Next Generation EU recovery plan provides a framework that can deliver a more sustainable future. 

Renovation Wave kickstarting with schools and hospitals

The building Renovation Wave, announced by EU Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans end of 2019, became an even higher priority on the EU agenda as a fast track to drive the European economy out of the COVID-19 recession while greening the energy system. European Commission’s energy chief, Kadri Simson stressed at a high level debate that the need to rebuild the EU economy provides an opportunity for Europe to “fast-forward the conversation on climate neutrality in 2050”. The  ‘Renovation Wave’ strategy supposed to be presented this September as a plan to boost building renovation in the EU doubling the current annual renovation rate to 2%. The construction sector is considered as a key tool to boost local employment and economies. Hospitals and schools will be the first target areas for investment according to the recovery plan. This is a great opportunity to improve indoor environment quality in schools, an often-neglected building type, by adding proper ventilation solutions and to refurbish or increase the quality and performance of the European hospital stock largely built in the 1960-70’s .

Healthy buildings and the Renovation Wave

The awareness of  indoor climate quality and health aspects linked to energy renovation and building performance increased among EU policy makers during the 2nd EPBD review, when REHVA along several stakeholders was advocating to consider IEQ criteria in the directive. This awarness was further raised by the current COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting public health crisis. Kadri Simon pointed out in her referred speech that “If we can enhance building renovation rates across the EU, we get healthier and more energy efficient homes.” The Next Generation EU communication states that the Renovation Wave “will help save money on energy bills, provide healthier living conditions, and reduce energy poverty” at the same time.

EP support for a Renovation wave with IEQ requirements for healthy buildings

The European Parliaments (EP) ITRE (Industry, Research and Energy) committee is working on an own initiative report targeting the “Renovation wave” and the EU Green Deal of the von der Leyen Commission. The report on Maximising the energy efficiency potential of the EU building stock aims to drive the related legislative actions of the European Commission.

Rapporteur Ciarán Cuffe [Verts/ALE] tabled the first draft mid-April 2020, to which shadow-rapporteurs  submitted amendments. The compiled Amendments of ITRE signals high awareness and strong support of healthy buildings by the EP and a clear push for increasing IEQ along building renovation. The proposed amendments include to add a standalone Healthy buildings and indoor environmental quality (IEQ) section and a call “on the Commission to take account in legislative proposals, such as the Renovation Wave, the requirement of healthy buildings in addition to the energy efficiency first principle.”

Given the support by different MEPs across the aisle, it is likely that the final compromise amendment of ITRE, to be voted in July, will contain a strong point on IEQ and healthy buildings in relation to energy renovation which will be hopefully approved by the EP Plenary on the vote scheduled in September-October 2020.

Read more about the ITRE report and the REHVA comments in the REHVA Expert Area.

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