Monday, July 24, 2017

Andernach, where the council employs people to grow food in public places

Plans for “sustainable cities” often miss out a key element of human habitation, food, which is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. But there is an increasing number of urban projects globally, run by volunteers and sometimes such as in Germany, funded by local government, that are helping to rectify this problem.

A version of this piece was published on The Fifth Estate on 18 July 2017

According to Gunhild Stordalen, an amazing woman from the EAT Forum in Sweden, food is the main issue around which coalesces all the other threats: climate change (food growing alone is responsible for 24 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions), poor health, social inequality, soil loss, and biodiversity loss.

“Food is the biggest driver of climate change,” she said at a conference I attended recently. “As two billion more people will be added to the planet this century and more people become affluent, more will eat meat and there is no scientific consensus on solving these interconnected problems. We need action to change this and to end the disconnect between consumption and production”.

Public vegetable planting session in Andernach.
Public planting session in Andernach.
Perhaps the most successful, concerted urban attempt to do this is in the historic town of Andernach, which nestles on the banks of the Rhine in western Germany. Ever since 2008 it has been providing garden space in its parks and other council-owned greenspace for the growing of food and keeping of farm animals, and been an inspiration for hundreds of other towns.

Integrated design includes food growing

It was started by geoecologist Lutz Kosack, who works in the city planning office on urban land conservation measures, and the horticulture engineer Heike Boomgaarden, who developed what Kosack calls a “sustainable building kit system for municipal green space planning, whereby ecological, economic and social aspects were integrated into an overall concept”.

The sign reads Picking allowed, not entering forbidden!
The sign reads 'Picking allowed, not entering forbidden!'.
Agriculture was transplanted literally into urban green space to make healthy food produce accessible to everyone, harvested by the citizens, free of charge. Fruit and vegetable beds were planted around the castle ruins in the centre of town, with the motto: “‘picking allowed” instead of ‘entering forbidden'”.

Plan of Andernach vegetable planting
This plan gives an idea of what has been planted where.

Andernach permaculture site from the air.
The permaculture site from the air.
Meeting with great success, the idea subsequently expanded into a 14-hectare periurban permaculture facility and a wide range of activities, to make public green spaces more creative and to promote urban biodiversity despite “a difficult budgetary situation”.

Huge spin-off benefits

There are many spin-off benefits: the green spaces and projects create meeting places, people are healthier and brownfields are transformed into bee pastures. The long-term unemployed are supported to take part, to gain skills and qualifications. The permaculture holding offers employment, including to refugees, generates revenues from sales of meat, and creates a market for regional products.

…and local government pays salaries to make it work

It was not a grassroots initiative, but the project of a far-sighted city administration, which pays the salaries of those involved and makes the land available. In 2012, Kozack, Boomgaarden and Andreas Görner founded the company “Esslich – Büro für urbane Pflanzkultur”. They have all gone on to spread the concept throughout Germany.

The city’s genetic diversity is extended every year with selected vegetable varieties. Kozack says: “We preferably work with regional plants. Our native flora is much more valuable to wild animals than imported and highly cultivated species, because they have developed over thousands of years and are optimally adapted to each other, as well as adapted to our climate and our soils. Combined with an organic soil improvement and homeopathic plant protection is a solid foundation laid.

“We want to make people experience sustainability that does not mean renunciation but wealth, beauty and harmony”

“We have now professionalised this concept of regionality with the “1 square mile homeland” (2.59 sq km) concept. We want to make people experience sustainability that does not mean renunciation but wealth, beauty and harmony.”

The project has won several awards. The chairman of DUH (one of the award-givers, the German Environmental Help Foundation), Prof. Harald Kächele, observed: “Urban gardening is currently in great demand in many cities in Germany. But the concept of Andernach is unique. Because it addresses all the city residents and beckons them on each walk past the beds to sow and harvest themselves, and thereby change the cityscape in a positive way. ”

Livestock, such as rare breeds of chicken, sheep and pigs are also kept. In 2013, the then mayor, Achim Hütten, said, “We encourage our citizens to enter the flower beds, monitor the growth of green cabbage and so on, and finally harvest and taste them. This is very popular with the residents”.

A city for all, a citizen’s garden

It is a city garden for all citizens, a real citizen’s garden.

Andernach has now become a centre where other cities have come to learn how to do the same thing. As many as 90 other cities in Germany have taken up the idea. For example, Minden, in the springtime, all citizens are invited to a weekend where they plant seeds and seedlings in public places.

In Seattle, they’re also transforming public space into edible gardens

The concept is spreading in the USA too. In the city of Seattle the Beacon Food Forest is intended to transform a public area into an edible permaculture forest. Around 2100 sq m of land has been planted with hundreds of fruit trees, berry bushes, vegetables and herbs, which can be harvested by walkers and residents. The area includes playgrounds, lawns and community gardens for residents’ use.

The origin of all of these projects, Kosach and Boomgaarden acknowledge, can in some way be traced back to a small town in Yorkshire in the north of England.

It probably all started in Yorkshire

Incredible Edible Todmorden has been running since 2007 and inspired a great many copycat projects in towns all over the UK and beyond. These are pretty much all, unlike Andernach, grassroots-initiated, though many have secured the cooperation of the local authority.

The Todmorden project was the brainchild of Pamela Warhurst, Mary Clear and a group of like minded people, who, as they describe in the recent film about the Transition movement, Demain (Tomorrow), just wanted to plant some fruit and veg in vacant spaces in their town. Their idea has fertilised minds far beyond what they could ever have expected at the time. “Our motto was, just do it!” says Pamela in the film.

Preparing a bed for planting outside the health centre in Todmorden.

The Incredible Edible Network lists as members over 100 groups across the UK and many others in Australia, Canada, France and the USA. Its website contains a starter kit and helpful videos for anyone wanting to begin a group in their own area.

Urban gardens can be more productive

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, garden plots can be up to 15 times more productive than rural holdings with just one square metre capable of providing 20 kilograms of food a year. The food footprint is correspondingly much smaller than imported food. Urban agriculture can generate one job every 100 sq m in production, input supply, marketing and value-addition from producer to consumer.

For all the above reasons, urban growing deserves to be much higher up the agenda of town and city authorities everywhere.

David Thorpe is the author of The One Planet Life, a Blueprint for Low Impact Living. See his website here.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Europe starts work on making buildings smarter

The European Commission is proposing that a voluntary scheme for rating the “smart readiness” of buildings be adopted by the end of 2019. This scheme will include the development of a smart readiness indicator, and a methodology to calculate this.

Buildings are becoming micro-energy hubs, but the building sector is lagging behind in understanding the implications.

(A version of this article was published on The Fifth Estate on 10 July 2017.)

In Europe, part of the problem is a lack of high-quality data on the building stock. This is hampering efforts to reduce the amount of energy buildings use. There is no consistent data to form a baseline for the Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) that rate buildings’ energy use.

This problem is to be tackled from one direction by the development of a voluntary “smart readiness indicator” (SRI) for buildings. The SRI would measure buildings’ capacity to use ICT and electronic systems to optimise operation and interact with the grid.

But, just as there’s no consistent data, there is also no universally accepted definition of what makes a smart building, and there are few initiatives directly linked to indicators.

So work is now underway to try to define what an SRI for buildings looks like.

Why do it?

A smart building environment connects with many processes (bubble diagram)
A smart building environment connects with many processes. Source: BPIE
An SRI’s eventual purpose is to raise awareness amongst building owners and occupants of the value of the electronic automation and monitoring of technical building systems, and to provide confidence and transparency to building users regarding the actual energy and cash savings generated.

An SRI would also align building energy performance – and the current drive to create a Single European Energy Market – with another pan-European idea: the Digital Single Market.

The rationale is that digitalisation of the energy system is rapidly changing the energy landscape, allowing easier integration of renewables, smart grids and the establishment of “smart-ready” buildings.

The benefits of 'smart buildings' (diagram)
The benefits of 'smart buildings' Source: BPIE

As with most things in European legislation, the development of an SRI is complex. It’s bound up with the European Commission’s current process to revise a directive to improve the energy performance of buildings. By 2050, the aim is to decarbonise the building stock as part of developing a secure, competitive and decarbonised Europe-wide energy system.

This revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) was originally meant to incorporate targeted incentives to promote smart-ready systems and digital solutions in the built environment, but has since become less ambitious.

The aim is to promote energy efficiency in buildings and to support cost-effective building renovation with a view to the long term goal of decarbonising the highly inefficient existing European building stock. It’s part of a wider review of the energy efficiency legislation, combining:

  • reassessment of the EU’s energy efficiency target for 2030 – which was just set at a lamentably low rate of 27 per cent
  • a review of the core articles of the Energy Efficiency Directive and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive
  • reinforcing the enabling financing environment including the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) and the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI)

What is an SRI?

According to the European Economic and Social Committee, a smartness indicator will measure a building’s capacity to use ICT and electronic systems to optimise operation and its interaction with the grid by developing a transparent, meaningful indicator that would add value to the EPC without imposing undue data collection or analytical burdens.

Such an indicator would show how capable a building is of letting its occupants assess energy efficiency, control and facilitate their own renewable energy production and consumption, and thus cut energy bills.

A preliminary report for the European Commission’s Energy Directorate by consultants Ecofys with colleagues in a specially created consortium, said these indicators would help with the energy management and maintenance of a building, including automated fault detection; assist in automating the reporting of the energy performance of buildings; assist with data analytics, self-learning control systems and predictive control to optimise building operations; and enable buildings to become active operators in a demand response setting.

The renewable energy context for 'smart buildings'
The renewable energy context for 'smart buildings'. Source: BPIE.

Ecofys with its colleagues is developing the formal definitions for the indicators as Task 1 of a series of five stages up to the proposal of the standard in April next year.

Tasks for the Smart Readiness indicator programme. Flow diagram.

It has listed the ten services that the indicator could cover as: heating, domestic hot water, cooling, mechanical ventilation, lighting, dynamic building envelope, energy generation, demand side management, electric vehicle charging, and monitoring and control.

The SRI must be open and transparent, in order to promote interoperability, or it will not be fit for purpose. This means that companies involved cannot monopolise or impose their own proprietary standards.

Diagram: Interoperability means that devices and services are able to talk to each other in the same language.
Interoperability means that devices and services are able to talk to each other in the same language. Image: Ecofys
“Smart readiness” necessarily implies a readiness to adapt in response to the needs of the occupant and to empower building occupants to take direct control of their energy consumption and/or generation, for example with the management of heating system based on occupancy sensors and dashboards displaying current and historical energy consumption.

It also implies a readiness to facilitate the maintenance and efficient operation of the building in a more automated and controlled manner, for example by indicating when systems need maintenance or repair, or using CO2 sensors to decide when to increase ventilation.

According to Paul Waide and Kjell Bettgenhäuser of Ecofys, speaking at the first conference on this topic in June, “The SRI should balance the need to reliably capture the smart readiness services and functions with the practicality and potential costs of independent assessment. It needs to be practical and provide the most benefit for the effort and cost of assessment.”

Above all, they said, “It needs to convey information which is salient (meaningful) to end-users, be easy to understand and motivate them to save energy.” It will also have to apply to all types of buildings, new and old.

An example of how the smart readiness building indicator could work (diagram from a spreadsheet)
An example of how the indicator could work.

This development process is expected to be complete by April 2018. Anyone interested in following or participating in the development of the indicator can sign up.

David Thorpe is the author of a number of books on energy efficiency, building refurbishment and renewable energy. See his website here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Harmony in Food and Farming – blueprint for a revolution

A review of the Harmony in Food and Farming conference on 10-11 July 2017 in Llandovery College, Wales.

Agriculture is responsible for 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions. We need to feed a growing population a better diet, more sustainably. This conference explored how.

The Harmony 2017 conference was inspired by Charles Windsor's eponymous book and initiated by Patrick Holden, founder of the Sustainable Food Trust – which he set up following his disillusionment with the Soil Association.

Harmony Charles Windsor book cover

In his opening speech, before whizzing off in a chopper (how eco is that?), Windsor mentioned that harmony in Welsh is cydseiniad (m.) or cynghanedd (f.) and to work in harmony is cyd-dynnu. Literally this is 'work-together'. The conductor Sir John Gardiner later said in his keynote speech, "music is the foundation of harmony. It is 'the state of being in agreement'".

Harmony is not a word normally used in agriculture. Windsor said that "we can't separate what we are from what we do", and that the bottom line should not be the chief motivating factor in the production of food.

"Spirituality, nature and man are not separate things. Where we do separate them, therein lies the root of the problem. Nature is not an autonomous machine. Farms are not factories, and we must be more balanced and harmonious and diverse. We must put back at least as much as we take out."

He believes that attitudes are changing, to greater realisation that we are all part of the web that supports all life on earth, and that this is why biodiversity needs to be encouraged everywhere.

Fifty speakers and moderators at the conference took up and explored this theme, as did the chef and his team, providing all the meals for 200-300 people over two and a half days, using local, specially prepared very delicious and nutritious food, which, unusually for a conference, was celebrated and made centre-stage.

Closing loops

Ellen MacArthur
Ellen MacArthur

Dame Ellen MacArthur gave a great presentation of her Foundation's work with large corporations, getting them to make their products more recyclable in line with the idea of the 'closed loop economy'. In the diagram illustrating this concept below, on the left are the biodegradable items which should usually be recycled back to the land to feed the soil.

Closed Loop resource use

On the right is the technological 'stuff'. "The loops should maximise the restorative and regenerative potential for the earth," she said. Companies like Renault and BMW (making reusable cars) and Apple's Upgrade system (reusuable phones) are on board.

But there was disagreement privately in the audience, a feeling that the corporations are part of the problem, and what is needed is system change, working locally. Yet others said system change cannot solve everything, particularly in cities or to make large scale, rapid change, and corporations have a place.

MacArthur called cities 'great aggregators' of resources and materials – especially nutrients. The opportunities to collect and reuse these is described in her Foundation's latest publication, URBAN BIOCYCLES, which "highlights the opportunities to capture value, in the form of the energy, nutrients and materials embedded in the significant volume of organic waste flowing through cities, through the application of circular economy principles".

Ending the disconnect

Gunhild Stordalen
Gunhild Stordalen

Gunhild Stordalen is an amazing woman from the EAT Forum in Sweden, who believes food is the main issue around which coalesces all the others: climate change, poor health, social inequality, soil loss, biodiversity loss. "Food is the biggest driver of climate change. As 2 billion more people will be added to the planet this century and more people become affluent, more will eat meat and there is no scientific consensus on solving these interconnected problems," she said. "We need action to change this and to end the disconnect between consumption and production". She thinks this can be done by collaboration across sectors. "We need new business models as much as new practices."

Peter Seggers, of Blaencamel Farm, Cilycennan, feeds his 300 strong community with year-round organic produce by feeding the soil and using polytunnels. He is a thermophilic compost freak. This is his passion, and he composts absolutely everything that is compostable to feed microbes to the soil which increases the nutrients in the food and gives greater protection to the crops from disease.

The heat from compost can be captured and used to grow fruit and other crops that would not grow outside in this climate, inside polytunnels (as it was in Victorian times, such as in the Heligan Estate). There was a trip to his farm on Tuesday afternoon.

He believes that the trick to ending this disconnect between consumers and producers is educating the consumers about the add-on benefits of this kind of food – fighting climate change, feeding the soil, improving biodiversity – through passionate communication, and telling them of the damage done by intensive farming.

Others, such as the veteran Craig Sams, founder of Whole Earth Foods, Green and Black's chocolate, and biochar firm Carbon Gold, think that this disconnect will never change until the price of real food is cheaper than fake food. This should be achieved with a tax on the carbon cost of fake food (you know what that is) and a rebate to real food (and that) producers for the amount of carbon they return to the soil.

Richard Young, of the Sustainable Food Trust, agreed with the principle but thought Sams' solution was too technically difficult to implement and that instead a tax on nitrogen fertiliser to reflect the external costs of its use would be easier to implement and just as effective.

Carbon sequestration in soil

Soil care is the central issue. Sams mentioned the 4p1000 initiative – increasing the amount of carbon in the soil by 4 parts per thousand each year would counteract all human GHG emissions, = 16bn tonnes/yr. He said La Vialla farm in Italy sequesters 7 parts per year – the link is to a peer-reviewed research report validating and explaining this.

Other things we shouldn't do, said Seggars, are burn food or food oil or even wood. "Burning wood contributes to premature deaths through air pollution and is a waste of carbon which should be sequestered (in buildings) or returned to the soil in compost or biochar," he said. "We should pay people to sequester carbon – planting trees, feeding the soil and building with timber."

Richard Young is a strong advocate of grassland use and ruminants. He said that grassland sequesters carbon for 50-100 years while cropland loses it for the same period. "It is a myth that ruminants' emissions are a really big problem if they are on grassland in the UK. They are only a problem in indoor intensive farming and in pasture created by deforestation." The latter, he said. is responsible for 15% of global GHGE. Ruminants' methane emissions in the UK form 2% of total emissions – a fair bit but not a lot, and this can be replaced by sequestering more carbon in the soil.

As this crucial paper shows, a range of management practices reduce carbon losses and increase carbon sequestration in grassland soil:
  1. avoiding soil tillage and the conversion of grasslands to arable use;
  2. moderately intensifying nutrient-poor permanent grasslands;
  3. using light grazing instead of heavy grazing;
  4. increasing the duration of grass leys;
  5. converting grass leys to grass-legume mixtures or to permanent grasslands.
This was scientific data which I had been seeking for a while, which confirms that conversion is problematic unless grassland is replaced with agroecological methods of horticulture – which are more intensive in human labour (employing more people) but use minimum tillage and no fossil fuels. They are also more productive per hectare.

Otherwise, despite the cruelty and methane emissions, to feed the world, much existing grasslands should be used for for sheep and cows. Conversion to agroecology produces higher yields of nutritional value per hectare (feeding more people) than pasture. I believe that in the future, as this type of food provision increases in the most appropriate places (for climate and soil quality, such as south-facing, well-drained, sheltered and flood-free areas), some grassland no longer needed can be re-wilded to promote biodiversity and tree-growing.

I urge that there is still a great need for more research on the comparative productivity of agro-ecological and permaculture methods compared to large scale conventional farming methods using artificial inputs. Such figures would really help to make the case for a faster shift away from artificial fertilisers to practices which promote soil care.

There were also talks on local food projects – Farmdrop and The Cambridge Sustainable Food Hub – and Jane Davidson talked about One Planet Development and the sustainability drives of Trinity St. David's University and Wales as a whole, with its world-leading Well-Being of Future Generations Act.


Education was another theme and Richard Dunne, headmaster of Ashley School in Surrey, said schools should feed themselves. He described how he had made the school menu 100% organic and locally sourced, including getting the children to grow and prepare some of it and making the kitchen into a classroom. The school has won the Soil Association Catering Award Scheme, Gold level. They keep prices down by using less meat and parents pay 10p/day more. They teach the geometry of nature and weigh their food waste every day.

The programme also contained sessions on bringing harmony into our lives and conflict resolution.

The whole conference was attended by delegates from as far as Norway and California. They all left feeling that this had been a very special event, hopefully the start of something big, and were determined to put it into practice what they had learned in some way in their own lives and work.

For me, it was inspirational and I met many very interesting people, also meeting curiosity about The One Planet Life and the work of Calon Cymru Network. It was especially weird for me in that it took place inside the grey metal shed (a 'carbuncle'?) that I stare at beyond my office window every day – the Sports Hall of Llandovery College, behind which I live and work!

My view of Llandovery Sports Hall
My view of Llandovery College Sports Hall – inside of which the pictures above were taken.

David Thorpe is the author of The One Planet Life.

EU loses nerve to tackle climate change, fuel poverty & slashes 2030 energy efficiency goal

The cost and carbon saving of various energy efficiency measures
Energy efficiency – you know it makes sense, right?

While paying lip service to the Paris Agreement, the European Union has let a minority of countries slash its energy efficiency targets by 90 per cent on the grounds that even modest targets are too expensive. The EU’s commitment to tackling climate change and fuel poverty is now seriously in doubt.

A version of this article was first published in The Fifth Estate on 5 July.

At a meeting of the Energy Council of EU energy ministers on 26 June, where several energy efficiency policies were discussed, agreement on the energy saving target from 2020 to 2030 was hard to achieve, and reaching consensus came at great cost to the level of ambition.

The new target

Currently the energy saving target is a non-binding one of 20 per cent by 2020, compared to baseline projections. A legally binding target of achieving 30 per cent energy use reduction by 2030 had been on the table.

Originally the European Parliament was calling for a 40 per cent target because the EU is already on track to achieve 24 per cent savings by 2030, and deeper savings are easily available and cost-effective. Earlier this year there was wide expectation that the final compromise might be between 30 per cent and 40 per cent.

But at the meeting, some countries demanded that the target should be only voluntary – and other countries demanded that it should be as low as 27 per cent.

In the end a non-binding 30 per cent target was agreed.

This compromise means the new target is less ambitious than the current 20 per cent by 2020 target. Currently countries would have to save 1.5 per cent energy a year. A 30 per cent target by 2030 decreases it to just one per cent between 2026 and 2030, assuming all countries co-operate.

Further loopholes were also added, specifically permitting:
  • the double counting of energy savings from new buildings standards/codes – even though those are already covered by the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive
  • double counting in the period 2021-2030 savings from energy efficiency measures installed before 2021 with lifetimes longer than 23 years – as if they were new savings
  • 15 per cent of on-site renewable energy generation to be treated as energy savings
  • excess savings from the current Article 7 (Energy Efficiency Obligation) period 2014-2020 towards the minimum savings 2021-2030
Observers Jan Rosenow and Richard Cowart calculate that together this will reduce the actual energy savings mandate in the EED from an effective level of 443 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) a year to just 52 Mtoe – a reduction of almost 90 per cent.

Rogues and heroes

The rogue countries that argued for this result were the UK, which allied itself with eastern states Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia and Romania. The WWF said these countries “could not even support the final weak deal”.

The British negotiator was Conservative MP Richard Harrington. Where other countries sent their secretaries of state for energy, Britain sent an under-secretary from the business, energy and industrial strategy department, who had only been appointed a week earlier.

Richard Harrington MP
Richard Harrington

The heroes of the day were France, Germany, Luxembourg, Sweden and Ireland, who were congratulated by Greens MEP Claude Turmes for fighting hard for a strong deal. He said afterwards that he would use his place on the European Parliament’s Industry Committee to “raise the ambition” of the targets.

EU Energy and Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete commented that finding agreement on the Energy Efficiency Directive was “not easy” and that as a result it fell “below the ambition of the Commission”.

Miguel Arias Canete
Miguel Arias Cañete

Others were equally disappointed. Clémence Hutin, climate justice and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “These negotiations should have been about ramping up the EU’s climate efforts for 2030, instead we are risking a decade of inaction. EU governments have expressed deep regret at Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, yet they are turning their backs on the main tool for cutting emissions – energy efficiency.”

Benedek Jávor, Greens/EFA MEP said: “There is an engaged energy efficiency community that stands ready to raise ambition levels and invest massively in the energy transition. They just need the right signals from policymakers. To fully unlock this potential, all member states need to give their support. Where some countries lag behind, there is a real risk of higher energy costs and serious competition gaps.”

The European Parliament’s own Impact Assessment had shown that higher levels of ambition would deliver significantly greater benefits, as revealed in the table below.

Level of energy savings:30 per cent33 per cent35 per cent40 per cent
Reduction in gas imports12 per cent23 per cent29 per cent41 per cent
GDP increase in 20300.39 per cent1.45 per cent2.08 per cent4.08 per cent
Additional jobs396,9501,587,8002,428,4004,856,800
Savings in fossil fuel import bills (bn) for 2021-203069.6147.3199.3287.5
Reduction in pollution control and health damage costs (bn/year )4.5-8.315.2-28.419.9-36.630.4-55.9
Total GHG emissions reductions ( per cent to 1990)41 per cent43 per cent44 per cent47 per cent

These are consistent with figures from the De-Risking Energy Efficiency Platform (DEEP) database, which contains close to 6000 individual energy efficiency projects across the member states of the EU. Overall, it shows the cost per kilowatt-hour saved in buildings is 2.5 eurocents and in the industry sector 1.2 eurocents.

Fuel poverty is an issue in all member states. It affects tens of millions of Europeans (between 50 million and 125 million depending on how you measure it). Of the main causes – low income, high energy costs and poor insulation of European dwellings – the directive could do much to affect the latter two.

The Energy Union strategy and the Paris Agreement

The Energy Efficiency Directive forms part of the EU’s Energy Union Strategy.

The general aim of the Energy Union strategy is to move towards the decarbonisation of the EU economy by 2030 and beyond, while strengthening economic growth, consumer protection, innovation and competitiveness. The Commission proposal on energy efficiency updates the current Energy Efficiency Directive 2012/27/EU and was presented in November 2016.

Buildings are the largest single energy consumer in Europe, consuming 40 per cent of final energy.

Even before this meeting, the EU was not on a trajectory to meet its self-assigned 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of “at least” 40 per cent by 2030 below 1990 levels under the Paris Agreement.

According to Climate Action Tracker – which monitors individual countries’ plans to achieve the global aims of the Paris Agreement of limiting warming to 1.5°C – the EU’s domestic emissions are projected to be cut by only 30-39 per cent.

The EU’s target is, anyway, not consistent with limiting warming to below 2°C, let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit, says Climate Action Tracker. Extrapolating the current trend to 2050 would give an emissions reduction of 64 per cent below 1990. The EU’s goal is 80-95 per cent.

Looking at energy savings alone, by totalling the amount of savings reported by member states in 2014 and 2015, the total savings target is currently on track to be less than zero.

Factoring in the new, seriously unambitious targets under the Energy Efficiency Directive would make achieving Europe’s goal under the Paris Agreement much harder and more expensive to achieve.

The extra expense comes because it is cheaper to take action now than in the future, and because it is generally cheaper to install measures to save energy than to build new generation plant.

The European Union is now seriously lacking credibility in its position on tackling climate change. What is always puzzling is why energy efficiency – which has been shown innumerable times to have multiple benefits and mostly be more cost-effective than building more generation capacity – has so few friends.

Perhaps we should stop energy ministers deciding such matters and let those unswayable by lobbying from energy suppliers do so instead.

David Thorpe is the author of a number of books on energy efficiency, building refurbishment and renewable energy. See his website here.

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