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Sustainable housing policies for the existing housing stock in Europe

Abstract
By : Minna Sunikka

 
What is the environmental potential of the existing housing stock in the EU and the accession countries? How prepared are the countries to face the challenge of the existing housing stock? This article describes policies and policy instruments currently used to encourage sustainable renovation in Europe based on the national progress reports of the 3rd European Ministers Conference on sustainable housing in Belgium in 2002. The research shows that policies and policy instruments focus on new construction. Sustainable renovation is encouraged, but not enforced: legislation applies to new construction and fiscal measures do not address environmental objectives in particular. An examination of policies since 1996 shows that, apart from the initiatives resulting from the Kyoto Protocol, the lack of a strong driving force has kept policy developments moderate. This article argues that current policies and policy instruments are not effective enough to take advantage of the environmental potential of the existing stock either in the EU or accession countries. Different strategies for the forefront, platoon and laggard countries are suggested.
Keywords: housing policy, sustainable built environment, housing stock, renovation, Europe.
1. Introduction Ten years after the UN Earth Summit in Rio countries reaffirmed their commitment to sustainable development in the Johannesburg Summit in 2002. Sustainable housing is a key component in sustainable development. The building sector accounts for 25-40% of the final energy consumption in OECD countries, space heating being the largest proportion of energy consumption in both residential and commercial buildings (Hasegawa, 2002).
Sunikka (2000) and van der Waals et al. (2000) conclude that the real potential for sustainable building and CO2 reduction lies in managing the existing stock of residential buildings. Yet this area has been largely ignored in research and development activities. A significant proportion of policy instruments for e.g. reducing CO2 emissions target new buildings while government intervention for upgrading existing buildings has been modest (Hasegawa, 2002).
This article examines sustainable housing policies in Europe in relation to the potential of the existing housing stock. It aims to answer the research questions: what is the environmental potential of the existing housing stock in the EU and accession countries? How prepared are the countries to face the challenge of the existing housing stock? This is observed in policy context, legislation, fiscal measures, labelling and best practices. Recent policy developments are examined. In order to recognise effective strategies the countries are grouped by their advancement in sustainable housing as either the forefront, platoon or laggards. Finally, opportunities for sustainable renovation and management in Europe are discussed.
This article is based on the national progress reports of the 3rd European Ministers Conference on sustainable housing that was held in Genvalle, Belgium, in 2002 (Novem, 2002a). Before the meeting the Ministries in the EU and accession countries received a questionnaire on addressing the existing policy context, policy instruments (legislation, taxation and other instruments), priorities, best practices and future directions. Sustainable housing was defined from construction, social, economic and eco-efficient points of view. The meeting aimed to develop the idea of sustainable development in housing policies, to promote the implementation of measures, to improve information exchange between countries and to identify areas of common interest and possible policies at a European level (Novem, 2002b). The results of the meeting were used at the UN Earth Summit in Johannesburg in 2002. The reports from the 1st European Ministers conference on sustainable housing in Copenhagen in 1996, and the 2nd European Ministers conference on sustainable housing in The Hague in 1997 were used as a reference source for the present study (MVROM, 1996; Seijdel, 1997).

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