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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: MEP Weiss’ insights on ensuring a green and fire-safe European future

Jan 26, 2021 | EPBD, News, Sustainability

 

A green and fire safe future through renovation, energy efficiency and research and innovation.

MEP Weiss

 

Since December 2019 and the publication of the EU Green Deal, the European Commission has published various initiatives to increase buildings’ sustainability, some targeting more particularly energy efficiency and renovation. You were one of the Shadow Rapporteurs of the own-initiative (INI) report on “Maximising the Energy Efficiency Potential of the EU building stock”. This INI report includes two amendments on fire safety (paragraphs 45 and 46). Could you tell us why it was important to you to ensure that fire safety was included in this text?

When we renovate buildings in Europe, it is crucial that we tackle several challenges in order to achieve energy efficiency, which should be at the top of the agenda. By simultaneously addressing several aspects of renovation, we will make sure that we renovate wisely, and in this way, we will make sure that buildings become both safer and healthier; and this includes fire safety. That is why it important to include fire safety in the INI report on “Maximising the Energy Efficiency Potential of the EU building stock”. In particular, we highlighted the need to account for fire safety throughout the whole building life cycle from design to construction and renovation. Right now, we have a burning platform – so to say – of taking a giant leap into a greener world. We are standing in front of the renovation wave, which can turn around the approach for the whole industry.

You have generally taken a holistic approach to the EU Green Deal’s Initiatives such as the Renovation Wave and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) Revision and supported the advancement of fire safety issues since the beginning of your mandate. In your opinion, why is it important to account for buildings’ fire safety and fire resilience when we renovate and increase energy efficiency?

As mentioned, we are standing at the edge, waiting to take the leap into the renovation wave. To me, it is pivotal that we make decisions based on a holistic approach. This is why fire safety should be a priority, when we renovate to bring down the CO2 emission levels in the EU building stock. We want to build a greener world, and in this, we can build a safer world: if we remember to include fire safety.

The EPBD, revised in 2018, includes two articles (article 2a paragraph 7 and article 7 paragraph 5) that encourage EU Member States to use long-terms renovation strategies as well as major renovations to address fire safety. With the upcoming revision of the EPBD in 2021, how do you think these provisions could be strengthened?

Long-term strategies are important tools if we want to roll out better building renovation to all Member States. We need support from all Member States to get things moving faster towards a greener world and we need to make it clear why it is important that we move fast. Some of the current challenges are slow implementation processes and reporting of existing strategies. There is no quick fix to the challenges. One of the first steps could be a revision of “minimum energy performance requirement” within the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive to include fire safety.

With the Renovation Wave and the EPBD revision, what do you think the European Commission and the European Parliament could put in place to encourage Member States to seize these initiatives as opportunities to provide healthier and safer buildings (including when it comes to fire safety) to EU citizens?

Strategies are just words. We need to turn our eyes to the real world. Which is why I want to return to the ‘why’. Every time we want to implement new initiatives or legislation, it is important to remember why we are doing it. In the case of the renovation of buildings, there are several good answers to the ‘why’. First, the most obvious answer is energy efficiency. Furthermore, we also get to increase the value of the property renovated. Lastly, it would also provide support to overcome barriers such as split incentives. Prioritising deep, including staged deep, renovation of the worst performing buildings by setting minimum energy performance standards (MEPS), which are essential for investment in renovation will benefit occupants and could help to lift citizens out of energy poverty. So, it is essential that Member States realise these underlying benefits.

In Denmark, in 2018, a nursing home called Plejehjemmet Farsøhthus Norddjurs Kommun caught fire1 . This tragic event resulted in three deaths, and it was concluded that the safety level did not comply with the regulations. What do you think should be done through the Renovation Wave to ensure the fire safety of vulnerable people that might not be able to escape (such as kids in schools, patients in hospitals, elderly in care homes etc.)?

One death that could have been avoided is one too many. That is the base line. A fire in a nursing home should never have the outcome as the one in 2018. The first thing we need to focus on is the safety. Returning to the ‘why’ here, we are talking about users of buildings. A building without people in it is nothing more than bricks. When we talk renovation, a greener world and energy poverty, we have to remember how the buildings are used. In cases where there are special needs, this should be properly addressed in the planning process. The holistic approach also includes the aspect of special needs. There is no point in building a high-rise building if most of the users are wheelchair users; in the event of a fire, there is no possibility of using the elevators. We need to include the consequences of our building and renovation choices into the planning process. Secondly, we need to focus on information and education in the Member States. If there are specific challenges in a particular building – for example special fire escape routes – this should be part of basic training for staff. One size-fits-all does not fit all buildings when we have a diverse EU building stock.

The EU building sector has been developing a number of green technologies and materials to contribute to making buildings more sustainable and cutting Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emissions. The challenge is that the potential fire risk associated with some of these innovations has not been adequately assessed. How do you believe Horizon Europe could contribute to increasing research on this topic?

The foundation for development and growth is dependent on innovation. That is why we have to pave the way for innovative green solutions. There are many green and innovative companies waiting for the signal to run towards solving some of our major challenges. They already have the solutions, but some of them are seeking other markets than Europe due to obstacles. It is paramount to remove these obstacles that hinder innovation. This could for example be unnecessary bureaucracy. I support the Horizon programme because we are dependent on science. Our raw material is between our ears. When it comes to including green innovations in buildings, they represent a fantastic opportunity to make our building stock more sustainable. Research is an essential stage to develop efficient and safe innovations. Horizon Europe should contribute to ensuring the appropriate research has been conducted and that the resulting innovation does not jeopardise a building’s fire performance. This year I look back at especially one specific result that plays a significant role when it comes to combining research and innovation. That is the introduction of strategic climate partnerships, which was introduced to the new climate law by my group – the European People’s Party – and me. Strategic climate partnerships draw on experiences from Denmark where we have the unique possibility of matching science and business.

As a Member of the European Parliament, what would be your fire safety priorities for next year when it comes to the EU Green Deal’s policies?

We need to be ambitious when it comes to creating a greener world. In order to reach EU energy and climate targets we need new approaches and higher goals. I would like to see a revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive. The current energy efficiency target at 32.5% should be upped to 40%. Furthermore, I want to introduce minimum renovation rates for buildings and policy measures ensuring deep, including staged deep renovations creating financial triggers and investment stability; fire safety should play a significant role. Currently, we are seeing very low levels of deep, including staged deep, renovation at an expected rate of 0.2%. In order to meet the 2050 climate neutrality target we need to move at a higher rate. My priority is getting the ball rolling and rolling faster.

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