The European Union walks back its ruinous proposal to mandate minimum energy efficiency standards for buildings, as the political will for climate policies continues to crumble across the West
Climatism is slowly dying, and the only remaining question is, how long it will yet linger and how much damage it will do before it is gone.
Everything that comes out of Brussels is a foul multilayered onion. On the outside is the laughable, impossible, childish utopian idealism. As you peel back the layers of abstract aspirations for the concrete prescriptions underneath, you become steadily more terrified.
Thus the European Green Deal, proposed by the European Commission in 2019 and approved in 2020, promised to show member states the way to climate neutrality by 2050. A key component of this Deal – one layer deeper – is a legislative package called Fit for 55, which sounds like a diet plan for menopausal women, but which in fact aims to reduce EU emissions by 55% by 2030. This is starting to sound bad, and our creeping suspicions are confirmed when we go deeper still into this thing called the Buildings Directive, which regulates building energy efficiency in the EU. In 2021, the European Commission proposed extensive revisions to bring this Directive into alignment with its “Fit for 55” aspirations.
The climate neutrality envisioned by the Green Deal simply won’t happen, but the proposed changes to the Buildings Directive were both realisable and for precisely that reason deeply alarming. The Eurocrats had worked out that the building sector is responsible for 36% of all emissions in member states. To meet their 2030 goals, they decided that each member state should be required to divide their existing structures into nine efficiency classes, and to impose “Minimum Energy Performance Standards” (MEPS)– that is, mandatory and ruinously expensive renovations – on the two least efficient classes.
Now, there are a lot of very dumb things about this. As far as I can tell, the climate-neutral utopia of 2050 is supposed to be an all-electric world, in which we’ll travel in electric cars and and harvest organic corn with electric tractors and heat our homes with electric heat-pumps. All this extremely abundant and cheap electricity will be generated by fields upon fields of wind turbines and photovoltaic panels. How building energy efficiency will matter for emissions at all in this electrical utopia is a hard thing to understand.
Even more dumb, the Commission proposed to define “Minimum Energy Performance Standards” (MEPS) not in absolute terms, but relative to the building stock in each member state. Thus, wealthier states with on average better-insulated buildings would have to impose mandatory renovations on structures that would pass muster as perfectly green and climate friendly, if only they were located in poorer states with worse-insulated buildings. For East Germany, this would have been especially catastrophic, because the value of real estate is much lower there, and the more efficient buildings of the West naturally skew the average energy efficiency upwards. It is hard to see how the MEPS as originally envisioned would not have destroyed the value of a great part of East German real estate.
If all this reminds you of Robert Habeck’s changes to the German Building Energy Ordinances, which caused massive uproar before finally scraping through the Bundestag in attenuated form in September, that is no accident. The revisions to our Gebäudeenergiegesetz (GEG) regulate heating, with the ultimate goal of compelling all German buildings to install heating systems that operate on 65% renewable energy. They were intended to complement the EU Commission’s revised Buildings Directive, which addresses insulation. The Federal Republic of Germany is an insane place and it is not enough merely to do the crazy things that everybody else is doing. We have to exceed them in our mania for self-punishment.
I spent many years in the United States, but for most of them I maintained an apartment in Munich, and all the while I’ve quietly endured the escalating crazy of the climate mob. I’ve seen my electricity bills climb and climb and climb. The GEG, however, was the first time I became seriously alarmed, and it was not just me. The controversy over the legislation propelled Alternative für Deutschland ever higher in the polls and almost destroyed Habeck’s political career. It was so bad that it has contained the utopian Green aspirations for the near future at least.
Happily, the GEG fracas also reduced the political appetite for turning the Buildings Directive into a cruise missile set to destroy the European housing sector. As Tagesschau reported back in August, Germany “at first supported” and “explicitly endorsed” the Minimum Energy Performance Standards of the European Commission, but soon changed its position in response to “domestic political pressure.” Handelsblatt further notes that “Housing Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) spoke of the ‘huge imposition on homeowners’” that the Buildings Directive represented, while “Finance Minister Christian Lindner … called the Buildings Directive ‘enormously dangerous.’”
The result is that the Minimum Energy Performance Standards have now been binned. From the Handelsblatt link above:
The Buildings Directive is currently in the final negotiations between the Commission, the Council and the Parliament. An internal document obtained by Handelsblatt states that “substantial progress has been made” and that “agreement has been reached on a large part of the outstanding points.” The negotiations in the so-called tripartite procedure are to be concluded by the end of the year. After the agreement, the EU Parliament and the EU Council still have to formally agree. …
Instead of [the Minimum Energy Performance Standards], the buildings with the worst energy performance (the “worst performing buildings”) are now to be determined as follows: Each country will divide its building stock into two parts. The 43 percent with the highest energy consumption will be defined as the worst performing buildings. 55% of the energy savings are to be achieved in these buildings.
That’s a little ambiguous, but my best understanding of it is this: The EU will set a still-to-be-announced energy savings target that member states must meet by 2030, and they will mandate that 55% of these savings be achieved in that 43% of the building stock in each member state that consumes the most energy.
It is hard to tell how much of an improvement this is. If the EU target is negligible enough, it could conceivably be met by the steady replacement of old substandard buildings with new ones, which is always happening whatever fever dreams the Eurocrats happen to be dreaming. Whatever the case, and even if the new proposal is less terrifying, it’s even more stupid: The least efficient buildings are the lowest-hanging fruit, and they will be where states try to achieve the bulk of their energy savings in any case. This is perhaps why MEP Markus Pieper of the CDU has called the revised proposal an “empty shell.”1
The Buildings Directive saga is merely the latest event in a recurring pattern I have been documenting throughout the year here at the plague chronicle: Sweden has finally walked back its 2045 goal of climate neutrality, the UK has delayed by five years its ban on internal combustion engines, the revised German GEG pushed back the new heating requirements while larding the rules with a wide range of exceptions, and now the EU have ditched their concrete demands for building renovations.
As our lofty aspirations run up against our self-imposed deadlines, they are steadily modified downwards, but never abandoned altogether. As with Covid, the lunatics are losing, but we’re not winning, and the result is that the apocalypse never quite happens, but we’re never quite relieved of impending doom either. Instead, we find ourselves in a strange middle place, with persistent uncertainty about how liveable the future will actually be and how much of our savings will survive this corrupt and decaying ideological system.
It goes without saying, of course, that none of these unilateral regulations have any hope of saving the climate, even on their own terms. While EU emissions have declined substantially since the mid-2000s, fossil fuel production and global emissions remain on an undeterred upward trend:
Demand-reducing European regulations simply edge global fuel prices downwards and encourage our rivals to consume more, while the threat of impending restrictions incentivises producers to bring more fossil fuels to market.
All the reporting on the Buildings Directive takes pains to emphasise that the EU will of course provide subsidies to make the improvements less painful. I find this to be a very small comfort, because – contrary to the apparent beliefs of many journalists – subsidies don’t automatically make stuff free. They are all funded, in the end, by taxpayers. At best, they can prop up the value of real estate that EU regulations would otherwise destroy, at considerable cost to the working population.
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