The European Commission has published the Communication on the “EU Renovation Wave” to ensure that the building sector too makes its contribution to achieving the Green Deal. The Austrian Chamber of Labour has scrutinised the Communication and reached the conclusion that many of the planned strategies are to be welcomed; however, a socially balanced implementation has to be ensured and the fight against energy poverty must be at the forefront.
The Renovation Wave shall reach the target of the European Commission to renovate 35 million buildings in the EU by 2030. The aim is not only to enhance people’s quality of life, but also to make an important contribution to making the EU climate-neutral by 2050. Another objective of the Renovation Wave is to contribute to the economic recovery following the COVID-19 crisis. The focus shall be on public buildings such as schools and nurseries as well as social housing. The Austrian Chamber of Labour supports this approach, as renovations are of particular importance when it comes to reducing energy costs for low-income households.
Due to the fact that people at risk of energy poverty hardly have the necessary financial resources to fund the required renovations, AK attaches particular importance to the focus on social housing buildings as the landlords do not always have to bear these costs. That is why AK regards it as doubtful whether enabling this circle to access grants, subsidies, or microloans, would lead to success as they will not be in a position to raise a contribution from their own resources. Therefore, the renovations costs for these households have to be fully absorbed.
To implement these measures, AK proposes the creation of a national energy and climate aid fund on a national level. Firstly, it would act as an interface to link the relevant players as well as a financing tool to implement or act as an incentive for measures to support the relevant households. Secondly, it would act as a centre of excellence, generating specific knowledge and promoting research on energy poverty and the social dimension of the climate crisis.
AK adopts a sceptical approach regarding the creation of intelligent buildings. Rather than installing as much technology as possible, only as much technology as necessary should be incorporated. Intelligent technologies do not only raise data protection issues, but also dependencies on data acquisition companies and triangular relationships in case of contract constellations at the expense of consumers and tenants respectively. It is therefore necessary to strengthen the rights of tenants rather than weaken them with the argument, used as a pretext, that the current landlord–tenant law would make renovations more difficult.
Apart from the important questions regarding social justice, the Renovation Wave should also be seen as an opportunity to create jobs when exiting the COVID-19 crisis. Needed here is the expansion of vocational training options and further education opportunities for workers and jobseekers, in particular given the fact that already prior to the pandemic there had been a lack of qualified personnel, for example regarding exchanging fossil heating systems.
From AK’s point of view, the Commission’s considerations to include the building sector in the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) have to be criticised: the availability of heating is a basic need. Hence, it should not be exposed to market forces, which would be the case if it was a part of the ETS. Hence, the admittance in the ETS would pose the risk of exacerbating social hardship and of increasing the danger of energy poverty. Instead, public investments and a clear legal framework is needed.