Sweden leads the EU charge towards a more wide-ranging EPBD

by GreenWire.org.uk. Published Thu 17 Sep 2009 11:28, Last updated: 2009-09-17
"The UK Government must ensure we make maximum use of the chances EPBD2 will offer"

Under the Swedish presidency there is a new urgency to the European Union’s desire to lead the way when negotiations on a successor to Kyoto begin. But will the UK grasp the opportunity?

Why must every building where occupancy changes have an energy rating? Why are there 26,000 public buildings with energy ratings displayed prominently in its foyer? Why do larger buildings when renovated have to be energy upgraded at the same time?

The answer to all those questions is: European Directive number 2002/91‐ known as the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.

But even as it was agreed in 2002 by all the European governments, everybody knew it was just a first step.

Last October, the European Commission made the first move towards creating that second step. It published a proposed recasting of the original text. EPBD2 sticks to the original concepts but builds on them, in a number of important ways. Among the key changes are:

• smaller public buildings to display their energy ratings;

• in all European countries (not just some, as at present) private buildings with regular public access, to display their energy ratings.

In April the European Parliament overwhelmingly endorsed the European Commission’s proposals, by 549 votes to 51.

The MEPs also sought to improve the text with 93 amendments, each designed to increase the directive’s effectiveness. This includes binding timetables for low carbon buildings, and more action on fiscal instruments.

To date the third part of the triumvirate, the European Council, representing the 27 Member State governments, has yet to announce its official view. During the first half of the year, there were few official discussions about the recast EPBD. Since the Swedish government took over the six‐month presidency in July, there has been a flurry of negotiating meetings between civil servants from each of the governments, trying to establish a common negotiating position.

Upping the ante, the Swedish presidency invited all energy and all environment ministers to Sweden in late July, to an informal meeting at which EPBD2 was given a very high priority. Led by deputy Prime Minister Maud Olofson, Stockholm made it clear that they intend the 27 governments to come to agreement during September. This would allow them then to negotiate a common position with the European Parliament, and with the European Commission, in time for December 7.

What happens on December 7? There is the formal Council of Energy Ministers which can place the seal upon the final text of the new directive. But that is just the hors d’oeuvre. That very same day in Copenhagen, the UN Climate Change convention reconvenes, to find a successor to the Kyoto Treaty.

The Swedish government will lead the European delegation. And it is absolutely determined that it will be able to demonstrate Europe’s ecological credentials in an absolutely concrete way – by being able to proffer a new, even tougher directive to improve buildings.

Where in all this is the UK government? Given the declared policy priority we give to energy saving, many other governments had been anticipating that the UK would have been leading the charge. Far from it.

For a long eight months, from the time the Commission’s original text appeared, there was no public statement as to whether we thought officially that it was good, bad or indifferent. Invitations to speak on public platforms were declined.

And then in July the silence was broken. A formal consultation was launched. It was unequivocal in its support, largely because “the proposals reflect our existing policy.” Indeed often “the UK has actually gone further, or is proposing to do so.”

For some reason, although they had been around for well over three months, the UK consultation/position paper completely ignores the 93 amendments endorsed by the European Parliament. But it also raises questions about several issues, upon each of which the UK government seeks views regarding the appropriate attitudes to be taken during negotiations with other governments.

These “areas of further consideration”‐ in Whitehall speak – include the desirability of developing a single methodology to define cost‐optimal, to widen energy performance certificates, to define low carbon buildings. And inevitably the speed of implementation. The final response date for this consultation is October 2. Such formal consultations are supposed to take place “at a stage when there
is scope to influence the policy outcome”. As the Swedish presidency intends to reach agreement amongst governments during September, it is difficult to see how the UK government will have much time to digest any responses it receives, let alone be guided by them.

If the UK government may have appeared torpid during these past months, it can surely make up for it during 2010. How? By ensuring that we make maximum use of the opportunities EPBD2 will offer to galvanise action. Action which will finally bring the UK’s 26m buildings up to the finest standards of energy efficiency. We can but hope.

Andrew Warren is Director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy

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