Focus on sustainability and fire safety in the EU

A new EU directive on the energy performance of buildings is to result in comprehensive energy renovation and strengthen the focus on obligations related to fire safety. This is explained by Bendt Bendtsen, who is a Danish member of the European Parliament and was the main negotiator for the new directive.

What is the purpose of the new energy performance of buildings directive?

- It is intended to stimulate energy renovation of existing buildings. The old directive from 2010 had a lot of requirements for new buildings, but we only build about 1% building stock a year, while 80% of our existing buildings will be in use in 2050. So, in order to have well-functioning and efficient energy consumption and make Europe more sustainable, we have to energy-renovate many more buildings – in fact, three times as many as today. Only by making our buildings more energy efficient can we cost-effectively achieve the climate and energy goals for Europe. This includes fewer fossil fuels, less import from Putin and better indoor climate for European citizens.

What role does fire safety play in the directive?

- A completely new obligation in the building directive is that member states must prepare long-term renovation strategies to achieve highly efficient and de-carbonised building stock in 2050. In the national long-term renovation strategies, the member countries can both tackle fire safety and estimate the strategies’ significance for health and indoor climate – including the safety of residents and users. According to the directive, the EU countries will – by both building new buildings and through major renovations – take healthy indoor climate conditions and fire safety into account. It is important that the industry and stakeholders insist that the governments of the EU countries live up to their obligations. First of all, when the directive is to be implemented in March 2020, but also when the directive is used in practice.

How do we ensure fire safety generally in the hunt for energy efficiency?

- Energy renovations provide a clear opportunity to tackle fire safety in a way that is the least inconvenient and least financial burden for owners, residents and users. When you energy-renovate, it makes sense to take a position on whether all fire-safety measures have been taken, and whether technical or structural changes can be made to buildings that can improve fire safety.

Joint European building regulations have been discussed before. Is this the beginning of developments in this area?

- I do not think that a European building regulation is very likely. My impression is that the governments of the EU countries will continue to insist the geographic location and placement of buildings will be too nationally specific to justify a European building code. I think that it is already a major step forward for Europe and European citizens that our EU countries have obligated themselves to have a highly efficient, de-carbonised building stock in 2050 by looking at energy performance. The toolbox for getting there is in the hands of the governments of the EU member countries, and rightly so.

Facade fires that have occurred in recent years, including, most recently, the Grenfell Tower in London, have had major consequences in Europe. What is the EU doing to confront this problem?

- In the building directive, we have focused on obligations related to fire safety. This is a good first step, but, of course, it requires that the EU countries are conscious of their responsibility when the directive becomes national legislation. In addition, I have just presented a proposal regarding the EU’s 2019 budget to improve fire statistics in Europe. An improved statistical basis is the first step towards being able to optimise fire safety efforts in the EU countries. Today, there are very different national approaches and calculation methods when it comes to fire safety. It would be good to have a joint European data basis so we can identify ‘best practice’ in the EU countries’ fire safety efforts more easily – and, in time, even start European fire safety measures.

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