Claude Turmes is a Luxembourgish politician and Member of the European Parliament for Luxembourg’s Green Party as part of the European Greens. We spoke to him about the European perspective of policy issues surrounding energy efficient buildings, and the best ways improve the state of both existing building stock and new buildings being built in Europe.

Could you briefly outline your key priorities as an MEP, in particular those priorities as a Green MEP?

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In general I try to make this world a better place for citizens and if we want to do this we have to protect ecosystems but also address things like sustainable buildings. You also have to look at issues like fuel poverty, which, in light of the economic crisis in Europe, is also an issue that we have to address. With ecosystems there is also the issue of climate change.

With buildings in Europe consuming more than 40 per cent of all energy used, and older buildings being the worst offenders, what can and should the European Parliament be doing to reduce this consumption?

I think we have done a lot for buildings and sustainable buildings in the last year. It was under our leadership that zero energy new builds as standard was introduced, which was my amendment. After getting the amendment through parliament it was agreed by the governments as well. I think since we passed that EU law, the European building industry knows that the building of tomorrow is an efficient building and this should help integrate decentralised renewables. From our view, at least, this is a big win.

We know that new buildings are an important story but an even bigger story in Europe right now is the renovation of the existing building stock. We know that 80-85 per cent of all buildings which will exist in Europe in 2050 already exist today and if we want to go for carbon neutral building stock in Europe we will have to be very skillful at renovation. We have tried in the last few years to create a mix of legislation but also tried to organise money from the EU budget under the so-called ‘structural funds’ and the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). As parliament our position was to ensure €50bn of this large scale European reinvestment was put into energy efficiency.

Does the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) of 2012 go far enough in terms of targeting EU governments to renovate their own buildings at a level of 3 per cent?

The EU governments, at national and local level, were opposed to the idea that they would have an obligation to renovate but personally I think that the only way to get people and the building industry to really go for deep renovation is by the public sector acting as a role model. We want to use the momentum from COP21, but also the fact that we have provided a series of financial instruments which didn’t exist back in 2012 so that, in the next round, we can come to a more ambitious agreement with local and national governments acting as renovation role models.

While it is relatively simple to ensure new buildings are built to green energy targets and move towards the zero energy goal, how can policy makers ensure older buildings meet similar targets? We cannot knock them down and start again, but renovation is expensive and the payback time is long.

At certain points in their lifespan, buildings undergo renovation such as when a family is expecting children or when an office building gets a new owner or an old owner wants to remodel. What is very important is that each time there is modernisation of a building for reasons other than energy, we should piggy back on that modernisation effort to improve energy efficiency, and for that we need to give advice that is good, timely and independent. For this we use consultancy to provide important independent advice such as which parts of the building are the main issue in terms of energy efficiency.

We need to work more on innovation in materials, but also in logistics to drive down the costs of major renovation. One project in the Netherlands that I find very interesting is called ‘De Sprong’, in which they do industrial scale innovation with 3D pre-designed modules. These modules are delivered by crane to a building and in one and half days to two days they can do a total refit of the building. This kind of renovation using the latest prefabrication and IT technology is what we need.

Finally, we need to invest more in skilled professionals of the entire building chain including architects, engineers and craftsmen, and use more targeted financial instruments which in the future will be more of a mix between grants and loans.

How achievable are Europe’s 20-20-20 targets, particularly in relation to energy efficient buildings?

I think we are on the right track in terms of energy efficiency. We are at the early days of the EED, which is the horizontal framework directive on energy efficiency. If the instruments and measures in that directive are fully implemented then Europe will be on track with energy efficiency.

Recently, in the European Parliament we voted for a 40 per cent energy efficiency binding target for 2030, which I think will bring a lot of visibility and shows great Europe-wide ambition for efficiency in building stock and efficiency in general.

Is Europe investing enough in the green agenda, particularly in relation to the greening of our inefficient older buildings? What more should we be doing?

In general, the problem with the European project at the moment is lack of confidence, especially amongst young people, and that is the result of the economic crisis and the fact that Europe is not yet out of this economic crisis. What we need in Europe is what I call a ‘reinvestment in Europe programme’. This reinvestment programme is about modernising the major infrastructures, which are needed for the future such as broadband highways, electricity highways, public transport in cities, but also everything to do with the building industry.

We need to be even more ambitious in our reinvestment strategy for Europe. What we are working on now is reforming the European CO2 trading mechanisms (ETS). I’m personally fighting to get a carbon flow price into the European future trading. This carbon flow price would generate a stable flow of income of several tens of billions of Euros, which could be reinvested in helping private investors and private owners to renovate the existing building stock.

Without tackling the question of sustainable buildings you cannot give an answer to the climate change problem, you cannot give an answer to the import dependency of Europe, and you cannot help people to be protected against the volatility of energy prices. Working towards low energy buildings is the best way to help the low-income consumers in Europe to have an insurance against fuel poverty.