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The ‘Green Buildings Directive’: An Important Piece in the European Energy Neutrality Plan.

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On April 12th, the European Commission definitively adopted the strengthened directive on the energy performance of buildings – another component in the broader regulatory framework of the Green Deal and the so-called Renovation Wave – which aims to renovate and improve the energy efficiency of millions of buildings across the EU, both residential and non-residential.

This ambitious project will nevertheless take into account the specificities of each individual Member State, which will indeed be called upon to choose which specific measures to adopt and on how many and which buildings to focus.

THE PREMISES: THE EUROPEAN GREEN DEAL.

To understand the regulatory background of the examined Directive, it is certainly necessary to briefly review the European Green Deal. This is one of the most ambitious strategies promoted by the European Union, with the specific goal of making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. This colossal program, as expected, has been conceived as the result of a series of smaller intermediate steps aimed at achieving:

a) The reduction of emissions by at least 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030.

b) The creation of a European circular economy, where products and materials are reused, repaired, and recycled as much as possible, thereby reducing waste and the use of natural resources.

c) The promotion of sustainable and local agriculture (“From Farm to Fork”), encouraging agricultural practices that reduce the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers and improve animal welfare.

d) The protection of biodiversity in the Member States.

e) The transition to clean and renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, and, to a lesser extent, nuclear energy.

f) The promotion of sustainable mobility and the increase of investments in electric transportation

g) And, relevant to our discussion, the renovation of public and private buildings to make them more energy-efficient.

In simple terms, the Green Deal is designed to radically transform the EU’s economy, making it more sustainable, addressing the challenges of climate change, and protecting

the environment, all while promoting economic growth and improving the quality of life for citizens in the individual Member States.

THE GREEN BUILDINGS DIRECTIVE: THE ECO-WAR AGAINST ENERGY WASTE.

As an essential component of the broader Green Deal, the discussed Directive aims to minimize the energy consumption of the European building stock, which currently accounts for about 40% of the EU’s total energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions. The energy efficiency, in the intentions of the EU legislator, involves the renovation of existing buildings and the adherence to minimum energy performance standards for new constructions. In particular, existing buildings must be renovated in such a way as to reduce consumption by 16% by 2030 and by 20-22% by 2035. In this context, the directive encourages the use of sustainable materials and innovative technologies, promoting the adoption of solutions such as advanced thermal insulation and low-impact heating and cooling systems. A key point remains the promotion of solar energy, so much so that by 2030 all new public buildings must be equipped with next-generation solar panels, while for residential buildings, the European legislator leaves the implementation of targeted national policies and measures to the individual Member States.

A TITANIC ECONOMIC EFFORT.

Overall, the European Commission has estimated that by 2030, 275 billion euros of annual investments will be needed for the energy transformation of the building stock, which is 152 billion euros more per year than the current resources. A truly titanic effort that, however, is not intended to further burden State coffers and, indirectly, taxpayers’ pockets. Indeed, to support the transition and renovation of energy-inefficient buildings, Member States will be able to rely on various existing financing instruments and incentives within the Union, including the Invest EU program (created during the pandemic as the ideal continuation of the European Fund for Strategic Investments), the Social Climate Fund, the Recovery Fund, and Regional Development Funds.”

THE ENGLISH CASE: THE (NOT TOO) REBELLIOUS STATE AND THE EXTRA-EUROPEAN GREEN LEGISLATION.

Although Brexit has distanced England—and other States of the United Kingdom—from the European orbit, this does not imply that the ‘Rebellious State’ is indifferent to the major environmental issues shaking the world. The British government, in fact, has announced a series of initiatives to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, which are similar in many respects to those of the European Green Deal.”

In particular, it may be interesting to mention:

a) The Energy Performance of Buildings (England and Wales) Regulations 2012: This regulation establishes the requirements for

the energy certification of buildings and compliance with minimum energy efficiency standards.

b) The Green Homes Grant Scheme: Although it ended in 2021, this scheme provided grants to homeowners to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. It represented a significant example of how the government sought to incentivize energy renovations.

c) The Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener: Published in 2021, this strategy provides a detailed plan to achieve climate neutrality, including specific actions in the energy, transport, agriculture, and construction sectors.”

"THE ITALIAN CASE: IS ALL THAT GLITTERS GOLD?

The European Green Deal, while a crucial initiative to address climate change and promote sustainability in the Union, might present particular challenges for some EU Member States, perhaps still unprepared to bear and support such a radical change. Among these, Italy can certainly be considered, where economic and infrastructural disparities between the northern and southern regions—heavily burdened by the specter of so-called ‘Differentiated Autonomy’—could make the transition more complex and intricate, with the risk of not meeting the terms imposed by Europe. Complicating the domestic picture is the presence of a primary sector heavily focused on agriculture and intensive farming, which has already shown—see the ‘Tractor Protest’—its resistance to European policies aimed at increasingly stringent supply chain control.

CONCLUSIONS

The European Green Deal is an ambitious challenge that will require significant commitment from all Member States. However, countries heavily reliant on fossil fuels, with limited financial resources, or less diversified economies may face particular difficulties. Adequate and well-targeted support from the EU will be essential to ensure that no one is left behind in the transition towards a more sustainable future.

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