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26 Sep 2023, 13:06
Benjamin Wehrmann

Building industry welcomes “new realism regarding climate action” in German government

Clean Energy Wire / ARD

Construction industry representatives have welcomed the German government’s new housing package  that will suspend the planned tightening of energy efficiency standards for buildings and promote investments in new and faster construction procedures. Andreas Mattner, head of the German Property Federation (ZIA), said “a new realism regarding climate action” had been applied by the government with the package that contains 14 different measures in total. The suspension of the so-called EH 40 building efficiency standard, which stipulates that newly constructed buildings must not exceed 40 percent of the emissions of a reference building, had been an “actual move forward,” which means that the government could help provide much-needed housing space to many more people, Mattner argued. The government had shown readiness to be flexible and “we can also reach the climate targets in a different way,” the industry lobbyist said. Tim-Oliver Müller, head of the German Construction Industry Federation (HDB), said the package “can open up new perspectives for the industry.” The measures taken were “more comprehensive than expected” but still lacked an instrument to facilitate easier access to cheap loans, Müller argued. 

“Germany needs to build more affordable flats,” chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a “housing summit” in the chancellery with industry representatives on Monday. The Social Democrat (SPD) said support programmes available to investors in the country’s housing sector will total 45 billion euros by 2027. These are meant to spur construction despite rising interest rates due to the European Central Bank’s measures to tackle inflation. Scholz added that the country had to try out new approaches to housebuilding, such as serial construction, which cuts bureaucracy and licensing procedures and makes the implementation of projects faster and cheaper, public broadcaster ARD reported.

Construction minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) said the package will help “more people to buy a house, be it an existing one or a newly built one.” Geywitz said climate action in the buildings sector had to be approached in a more “holistic” fashion. “This will help us save more CO2 and make the construction of new flats much easier.” She added that the recently adopted regulation for heating systems would be revisited to make new construction projects easier and “apply less detailed regulation and a greater focus on CO2 emissions.” Geywitz’s construction ministry (BMWSB) said “given the currently difficult conditions in the construction and landowner industries, caused by high interest rates and construction costs, making EH 40 the binding legal standard for new buildings is no longer necessary in this legislative period.” The measure intended to make the sector conform with EU efficiency standards by 2025 would thus be suspended. The ministry added that the country’s new building energy law will introduce strict climate neutrality standards for heating systems by 2024 anyway. The package also contains increased support for installing climate-friendly heating systems, for which the government will now co-fund up to 75 percent of the costs, depending on the recipient’s income.

The government coalition had set a goal of building up to 400,000 new flats per year, but it is widely off target, partly owing to rising costs and supply chain problems following the energy crisis, as well as to inflation and Russia’s war on Ukraine. Affordable rents and access to cheap loans for construction are among the most pressing issues for many people in the country, while the controversy around Germany’s heating energy law that aims to wean the sector off of fossil fuels has been damaging the government’s approval rates in recent months. Environmental groups had harshly criticised the suspension of higher efficiency standards, arguing this delivered “a fatal blow to climate protection in the building sector.”

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