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Exclusive Interview with MEP Pascal Arimont (EPP)

Fire Safe Europe

8 Dec 2021

MEP Pascal ARIMONT: “[…] the EU will need to focus more on the issue of sustainable fire safety in the coming years.”

1) Since December 2019 and the publication of the EU Green Deal, the European Commission has released several consultations and proposals that will impact the construction sector (Renovation Wave, EED, EPBD, CPR, RED, Taxonomy). How do you consider the potential of this sector in the fight against climate change? And why?

I welcome these developments, especially the renovation wave. The EU has set itself ambitious goals. Among other things, it wants at least to double the renovation rate over the next ten years and ensure greater energy and resource efficiency through renovations. Buildings account for around 40% of energy consumption in the EU and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions due to energy consumption. So, buildings are an essential part of the equation when it comes to the Green Deal. By 2030, 35 million buildings are to be renovated and up to 160,000 additional jobs created in the construction sector. I co-founded the working group “EPP4Construction ” against the backdrop of these developments. We want to create an exchange platform on construction, renovation, and crafts to prepare for this major challenge.

2) The Renovation Wave is one of the milestones of this European plan, but trends are not on track, and the cost of construction materials is increasing. So, what could be the solutions in the near future to make this Renovation Wave a success?

The rapid rise in prices is at the expense of many craft companies. This is a significant problem, especially in my constituency, where the crafts and construction sectors are fundamental to the  economy. These sectors are now facing significant supply bottlenecks due to high demand. I, therefore, called at an early stage for political intervention. I raised the issue in debates with the European Commission and called for an EU strategy for securing or producing building materials at affordable prices. The Commission then drew attention to Europe’s dependence on certain raw materials, which the European Commission intended to address, inter alia, through its industrial strategy and its measures for a European circular economy. Another important reason is the economic upturn in other parts of the world, particularly China and the US, where an investment boom has led to a sharp rise in demand. However, the Commission is opposed to restricting trade with third countries to isolate the European market from competition.

3) You were the Shadow Rapporteur of the ITRE opinion of the new circular economy plan where we can find a significant chapter on buildings. Could you tell us why it was essential to ensure that circular economy was applied to the construction sector? And how do you consider fire safety requirements could support such an objective?

Construction and demolition waste – such as scrap metal, used cement or wood products – makes up over one-third of total waste generation in the European Union, practically the largest waste stream. At present, many of the material streams from demolition and renovation works are not suitable for reuse or high-grade recycling. This is stalling the sector’s efforts in shifting to a circular economy. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that more circular economy-inspired actions are implemented to meet the EU’s waste policy objectives, such as waste prevention and increasing the quantity and quality of recycling for the waste produced on building sites, while also reducing hazardous and toxic waste materials. This last objective is important when it comes to fire safety requirements.

Here we have to assess to what extent flame retardants – which are often toxic and frequently used in buildings – could be reduced or avoided, thereby enabling more construction products to be safely reused and recycled.

4)  In your opinion, why is it essential to account for buildings’ fire safety and fire resilience when we renovate and increase energy efficiency? And do you think a fire safety rating scheme could help?

Generally speaking, we have to ensure that increased energy efficiency goes hand in hand with building’s fire resilience and fire safety. Energy-efficient renovations should indeed integrate fire safety to avoid superficial and unsafe renovations. To give an example: between 30 and 50% of domestic and domestic accidental fires have an electrical source. The renovation of the building stock in the EU should therefore integrate electrical safety checks and upgrades and ensure sufficient ventilation for smoke in case of fire.

5) With the recent dramatic events in Europe (floods, fires, seismic…), what do you think the European Commission and the European Parliament could put in place to encourage Member States to provide safer buildings/urbanised areas to EU citizens? And Could Long Term Renovation Strategies (LTRS) be the right instrument to do so?

As the Renovation Wave is part of the Green Deal, it will offer new funding opportunities, for example, within the framework of the European reconstruction plan “NextGenerationEU”. Member states and regions will be able to use these funds for premium schemes, for example, to provide additional incentives for the population to make their buildings more energy-efficient, build new sustainable buildings, and make their homes safer.

6) On a broader perspective regarding the climate change impact, do you think the COP26 has answered the expectations?

The COP26 climate deal is a compromise, and with all compromises, some are happy, and some are less happy with the outcome. If you decide to see things from a half-full perspective, you can certainly underline that the words “coal” and “fossil fuels” have for the first time entered a UN climate agreement and that the conference recognised the need to phase down unabated coal power and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. I would have, however, preferred that the conference consigns coal to history and that the EU and the US would have remained stronger towards India and China. To contain global warming within the limits of the Paris agreement, an ambitious climate policy is necessary, but emerging markets must make much more efforts than announced until now. There can be no outliers. It is, therefore, important that economies such as China and India set higher emission-reduction goals and reduce their dependency on coal. On the other hand, Europe must make sure its climate protection rules motivate the world to follow by decarbonisation, instead of deindustrialisation.

Furthermore, the fundamental question regarding climate protection – where do we get our sustainable energy from in the future? – has not been answered satisfactorily. International cooperation between states will be key in order to succeed in this regard. However, there is currently far too little talk or even negotiation about this key issue.

7) You have supported the advancement of fire safety issues since the beginning of your mandate by tabling a motion for a resolution on a European Union Fire Safety Day. As a Member of the European Parliament, what would be your fire safety priorities for next year regarding the EU Green Deal’s policies?

As part of the renovation wave, it is only logical to improve the buildings as a whole to enhance security – and of course, this applies to fire protection as well. In terms of sustainability, the resilience and quality of materials are of great importance. As stated earlier, materials for fire safety will have to be part of a functioning circular economy. The European Commission announced, as a part of the Circular Economy Action plan, a “Strategy for a Sustainable Built Environment”, in which it should put forward a holistic approach for the built environment. In its Communication on the Renovation Wave, the European Commission also refers to fire safety as a key principle for the renovation of buildings. In this sense, the EU will need to focus more on the issue of sustainable fire safety in the coming years.

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