Energy efficiency & investment in urban Europe

energy urban europe
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Open Access Government explores the stance of Eurocities on energy efficiency & investment priorities in cities throughout Europe

Eurocities is made up of 200 cities in 38 countries and until recently (1), Anna Lisa Boni was their Secretary General. She was in this position between June 2014 and December 2021 and is now Deputy Mayor in Bologna, Italy. While Eurocities seeks a new Secretary General (2), the mission of the organisation representing 130 million people in Europe people does not change: ensuring a good quality of life for everybody. We see this evidenced by hundreds of cities committed to pushing carbon emissions down to zero or welcoming refugees and migrants, for example.

Energy efficiency

Local governments who work on the ground with residents and citizens are crucial partners for realising EU policies and ambitions into reality, Eurocities believes. For example, during the last 11 years, the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive supports cities to make energy renovations happen and ensure new buildings meet close to zero energy standards.

Upcoming revisions of this specific legislation will represent a tremendous opportunity “to address energy efficiency, embodied carbon, affordability and standards for old and new buildings to meet the EU’s updated climate objectives of climate neutrality by 2050,” in the view of Eurocities. It’s interesting to note that buildings in Europe make up 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions. However, by the time we get to 2050, when the EU projects climate neutrality throughout the 27 state bloc, 80% of today’s buildings will remain standing but new ones must be built.

On the aforementioned piece of legislation, first and foremost, Eurocities affirms that a clear roadmap towards zero emissions by 2050 must be achieved. “This should be done by introducing a European framework for the Minimum Energy Performance Standard of buildings,” Eugenia Mansutti, Policy Advisor for Eurocities comments. “We need to see successive and predictable increases in the lead up to 2050 so that local and regional governments, as well as industry and households, can prioritise investments and make workable plans,” she adds.

“The energy transition represents an opportunity to improve access to better quality housing,” Mansutti goes on to say. “We want to see renovation costs balanced as far as possible with energy savings. This will mean paying special attention to the most in-need and at-risk households, but crucially will mean that more people are shielded from energy poverty as we chart the course to climate neutrality.” (3)

Green energy & mobility

Prospect+ continues this present discussion rather well, as this project aims to unlock sustainability investments locally by bringing together mentor cities and regions with those keen to find out how finance can be generated for green energy and mobility projects. To explain further, just one part of that concerns the energy-efficient renovation of buildings, more of which Eurocities Project Coordinator, Sylwia Slomiak, explains.

“It’s interesting to note that buildings in Europe make up 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions. However, by the time we get to 2050, when the EU projects climate neutrality throughout the 27 state bloc, 80% of today’s buildings will remain standing but new ones must be built.”

“The project will concentrate on five areas where cities have a lot of potential to make major cuts in emissions, while making savings in the local budget. These are the energy-efficient renovation of public and private buildings, from government offices to swimming pools and apartment blocks; modernisation of public lighting with handy fixes like LEDs and sensors; transport, from upgrading to electric buses to encouraging shared travel; and cross sectoral interventions that spread across multiple local sectors.”

Cities from Brno to Debrecen plus Riga to Stavanger shared the difficulties they had accessing finance to regenerate their neighbourhoods and discussed clever ways to release funds. Slomiak provides more details on the financing side of things: “These range from revolving funds, where profits from energy saved are invested into new energy-saving ideas, to energy performance contracts which mean that the contractors doing the work only get paid as the savings are achieved. In total, 149 local and regional authorities and 46 energy agencies and networks learned from their peers to finance and implement their sustainable energy and climate plans – this time we’re looking for 200!” (4)

COVID-19 recovery

We know that over the last two years, local authorities throughout Europe have responded to an unprecedented crisis that has impacted budgets enormously. This has left a shortfall of around €180 billion locally across the EU27. (5) This shortfall has, however, been boosted owing to substantial national and EU level support such as the European Commission’s REACT-EU and Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII & CRII Plus).

While this high level of support was an incredible help, a risk of uneven recovery remains that will not improve present disparities in Europe. Europe’s recovery must be better coordinated by different levels of government, Eurocities argues. The last word goes to Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence, who details the importance of investment for the future of urban Europe, which fits in perfectly with the wider aims of Eurocities we explored at the start of this article.

“As cities, we are fully aware that the decisions we make today will have implications for the investment priorities for many years to come. Our priority is to make sure we invest in urban, transformative projects that can bring forward a green, digital and just future.” (6)


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