Ada Colau is the mayor of Barcelona. Giuseppe Sala is the mayor of Milan. You are Vice Chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.
As temperatures begin to drop across the continent, together we prepare for a winter season in which millions of residents will be unable to pay their energy bills or keep their homes warm.
That must not happen.
And while it’s great news that the European Union is taking emergency action to tackle dramatic price increases, for a truly just and sustainable crisis response, more can be done – and fast. With the help of Europe’s cities, an unprecedented wave of residential energy efficiency upgrades across the continent could ensure at least 6 million low-income households will benefit by next year.
By investing in energy efficiency – starting with social housing – we could reduce heating and cooling bills for the most vulnerable while helping Europe meet its climate goals.
Currently, we are still in a situation where three-quarters of EU buildings are poorly energy-efficient, emitting heat in winter and struggling to stay cool in summer, with less than 1 percent of the bloc’s building stock being renovated each year becomes. Our households are currently responsible for a significant part of all gas consumption in Europe, contributing to both higher CO2 emissions and exorbitant energy bills.
By bringing 6 million homes a year as close to a net-zero standard as possible, we can more than triple the current rate of renovation – 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, provide direct financial relief to the most vulnerable and reduce the environmental impact of one of our most polluting sectors.
Cities have long led this effort to modernize homes. For example, the C40 cities’ contingency plan outlines how to tackle energy poverty by providing energy-efficient home improvements, installing renewable energy solutions – such as solar panels and heat pumps – and relieving residents of financial burdens.
With this in mind, Barcelona aims to renovate 10,000 homes over the next three years. And in Milan, modernization of apartment buildings under a 2020 pilot project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a third and energy costs by almost a quarter.
Yet there is so much more we could do as part of a larger coordinated effort with member countries at the national level.
Europe has for too long relied on polluting, expensive and volatile fossil gas that doesn’t allow it to control its own energy supply or fight climate change. Now we are witnessing the painful consequences of decades of underinvestment to make our homes, schools, hospitals and workplaces more energy efficient and of failing to expand renewable energy sources. But there is no more time to lose and the cities are ready to act.
We must put modernizing our homes at the heart of our crisis response. And we therefore call on all member countries to join us in our efforts to net-zero at least 6 million social housing and low-income households each year.
This goal can also help create the good, green jobs we need to build a clean economy and improve people’s quality of life. Renovating homes to be more energy efficient represents one of the biggest job creation opportunities in Europe, creating three times as many jobs as investing in fossil gas. According to recent C40 research, 680,000 jobs could be created and sustained by 2030 in Italian cities alone by retrofitting existing homes and buildings.
And those good green jobs must also pay well for those who need them most, with green job training and programs made available to facilitate access to these roles. We must also implement our contingency 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 renewable energy and energy efficiency targets, and now it’s up to us to turn those targets into reality.
Cities tend to be much closer to their residents, often already working with them on energy services, and they can more efficiently coordinate with neighborhoods to undertake home upgrades. Cities often already work with housing providers, and they know where and which communities are most needed. But they alone cannot deliver what is needed.
European 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 that cities have access to the resources needed for this task .
As Europe’s governments and leaders gather to craft a response to the energy crisis, we can no longer afford to neglect one of the most effective and urgent actions to tackle the root causes of energy poverty. And our cities are operational. They stand ready to work with EU institutions and national governments to launch a large-scale, coordinated wave of renovations that will cushion the impact of rising energy prices and deliver a sustainable and just solution to the energy crisis.