Italy is pushing against an EU directive aimed at bolstering buildings’ energy efficiency, looking to postpone and offer exemptions to certain renovations.

The purpose of the directive is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make the building sector climate neutral by the middle of the century. Legislation is due to be negotiated between EU countries and the European Parliament in 2023.

Italy’s government initially approved the initiative, but then realised compliance costs could be massive, with less energy efficient housing in the country compared to others.

“Europe would like to impose on us a directive on energy efficiency that would be a disaster for our housing stock,” according to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, head of the co-ruling Forza Italia party.

The European Commission has suggested that the worst 15% of residential buildings in every country be improved by 2030 and again by 2033, Reuters news agency reports. A similar schedule has been set for non-residential buildings.

The national building association in Italy, ANCE forecasts that in order to reach these goals, around 1.8 million residential buildings will need to be upgraded over the next decade, costing some €400 billion. An additional €190 billion will then be required to ensure business properties meet the standards.

As such, government officials are seeking to delay deadlines and have signalled exemptions may be offered to many of the older houses in the country.

“We will take the necessary steps to ensure that the final text of the directive contains provisions that are compatible with the peculiarities of the Italian building heritage and that allow for gradual redevelopment,” said European Affairs Minister, Raffaele Fitto last month.

Italy’s opposition to the project could risk the bloc reaching the objective of becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, say environmental activists.

Yet, despite the costs Italy would have to incur, the country would have a lot to gain from the plans, considering the rising energy prices stemming from the war in Ukraine, said the Buildings Performance Institute Europe think-tank.

“If Italy just insulated the roofs and walls in its least efficient buildings, it would save 49% of its gas consumption. I can only see good reasons to embrace this vision,” said head of research, Mariangiola Fabbri.

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