Sustainable cities: Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefcovic invites EBC President to Clean dialogue for cities

Last Friday, on 15 March, Maroš Šefcovic, Executive Vice-President (EVP) of the European Commission in charge of the European Green Deal, Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight, chaired the clean transition dialogue for cities. Our President Philip van Niewenhuizen was invited to contribute to the discussions on behalf of construction SMEs and crafts, next to high-level representatives from cities, cities networks, key industries for buildings and urban transport and the financial community.

This dialogue focused on how to accelerate the net-zero transition of cities and their preparedness to climate change, with a special accent on the role of industry, local businesses, and the financial community. This platform aimed at strengthening coordination at European level and consider actions and tools necessary to pool demand and investment needs of cities across the EU, to provide economies of scale and to create interesting investment opportunities for funders.

Buildings and urban transport were the main themes. In terms of buildings, the Commission reminded that the renovation of the existing stock remains the major challenge, particularly worst performing buildings inhabited by citizens in situation of energy poverty. Experience from various initiatives and projects shows that cities can have a pivotal role in kick-starting and accelerating the renovation process. Cities may benefit from available information to draw up their renovation plans, usually targeting defined areas such as a district approach or building typologies. These plans can also be combined with renovation of the urban space itself or other services in the area.

Regarding urban transport, efforts are needed to develop, modernise, digitalise, and decarbonise urban mobility and urban freight transport according to the EC. Cities and industry could develop and invest in more sustainable transport solutions: low or zero-emission collective and public transport, shared mobility, micro-mobility, walking and cycling. Investment in highly performant urban and peri-urban mobility and in quality infrastructure for safe sidewalks and cycling lanes is needed. In parallel, the Commission suggested a deployment of recharging infrastructure in cities to foster the deployment of electric vehicles, with smart city solutions offering opportunities to plan, implement and monitor reductions in emissions across a range of sectors, such as urban mobility.

In his interventions, Mr van Nieuwenzuihen addressed specific obstacles and challenges to the climate transition in cities in the buildings sector and possible solutions based on best practice in pioneering cities in terms of regulatory measures or investment priorities; models for collaboration between city administrations, industry representatives and private investors to facilitate rapid deployment of climate policies for buildings and sustainable mobility; and priorities for effective follow-up action through EU level initiatives supporting the green and digital transition in cities, including workable solutions to accelerate the mobilisation of necessary financial support for cities climate strategies.
© European Union, 2024

EBC President reminded the audience that residential and non-residential building renovation stands as the main activity of construction SMEs, with micro companies comprising a staggering 95% of all enterprises in Europe’s construction sector. With initiatives such as the Renovation Wave and the revamped Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) aiming to renovate nearly the entirety of Europe’s building stock over the next 25 years, the need for long-term funding, local guidance, and solutions to the chronic shortage of skilled labour becomes even more pronounced.

He then focused on the ‘One-stop-shops’ idea as a pragmatic local tool for a concrete push for energy renovation, now enshrined in the EPBD. There was agreement among the participants that such platforms will unburden private homeowners in their energy renovation journey by giving them the right advice, pointing them to the right financing and linking them to a suitable SME contractor, mentioning good examples of such counters in Rotterdam and Brussels, as well as in France and Spain. He added that energy renovation brings multiple benefits to the city in terms of living conditions, economic value and local employment and value to the local economy.

Mr. van Nieuwenhuizen also emphasized undesirable outcomes related to public procurement in the construction, infrastructure, and public transport sectors, due to situations where the best candidate does not always emerge, and local SMEs hardly get a chance to work. As a best practice of how to tender with a level playing field for all categories of companies, he mentioned the award-winner for most SME-friendly procurer, the municipality of Eindhoven, with its Ingroeimodel Emission-free Construction. He added a call to reassess whether the European procurement framework offers the necessary instruments to bring government projects to the market, to which EVP Šefčovič responded that procurement rules must indeed be adapted to the 21st century to improve relationship between smaller public clients and SMEs. Both EBC and SMEunited offered to actively contribute ideas and work in this regard, as well as to reducing administrative burdens and reporting obligations.

Furthermore, all those present agreed that the increasing shortage of skilled workers is a threat to the realisation of the necessary energy renovation of the built environment and the European Commission was therefore called upon to fully invest in identifying, mapping, and driving to the necessary competences.
EVP Šefčovič found the proceeds of the meeting valuable and committed to organise a follow-up meeting.
© European Union, 2024

EBC looks forward to continuing this dialogue with the European Commission and relevant stakeholders given the importance of local action for the social, economic, and environmental ambitions of the EU.