A new European Bauhaus art school for greener architecture and the emergence of ‘hydrogen valleys’ will help the EU to push down greenhouse gas emissions in buildings and industry, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in her State of the Union speech.

The initiatives are part of the commission’s Next Generation EU recovery plan that will be instrumental in reaching a 55% emissions-cut target at least, von der Leyen confirmed Wednesday, the upper limit of the 50-55% goal for 2030 envisaged by the European Green Deal that was first proposed by the commission in December 2019.

“I want Next Generation EU to create new European hydrogen valleys, to modernise our industries, to power our vehicles, and to bring new life to our rural areas,” von der Leyen told the EU Parliament.

She singled out the building sector as a key area for emissions reduction, as it accounts for 40% of the EU’s emissions.

“They need to become less wasteful, less expensive, and more sustainable.

“We know that the construction sector can even be turned from a carbon source into a carbon sink if organic building materials like wood and smart technologies like AI are being used.”

The commission plans to kick-start a European green renovation wave, giving system change its own distinct aesthetics that matches style with sustainability, von der Leyen marvelled.

New European Bauhaus

“This is why we will set up a new European Bauhaus, a co-creation space, where architects, artists, students, engineers, designers, work together to make that happen.”

The idea is modelled on the 1919-1933 German art school Bauhaus (German for ‘building house’), which combined modern design, mass production with functionality, and influenced the style of large socially progressive housing complexes in Berlin and other cities.

Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius and its last director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe left a lasting impression on global modern architecture for decades to come.

Like the 1920’s art school, van der Leyen wants the new European Bauhaus to leave a mark.

“I will insist that recovery plans not only bring us out of the crisis, but also help us propel Europe forward in the world of tomorrow.”

The solar sector welcomed von der Leyen's initiative and said making Europe's buildings smarter, more efficient and sustainable should be a priority for the sector.

"In the framework for the Renovation Wave initiative, installing solar on all new and renovated buildings in the EU could save 7 million tonnes of CO2 annually, and since currently more than 90% of roofs in the EU are unused, there is a golden opportunity to fill this space with solar," SolarPower Europe's policy director Aurélie Beauvais said.

Out of the €750bn Next Generation EU stimulus plan, 37% will be spent directly on green objectives, the European Commission President said. She announced that the commission will set a target of 30% of the plan’s budget to be raised through green bonds, taking “green financing to the next level.”

Hydrogen and fossil-free steel

As part of the the stimulus plan’s ‘lighthouse European projects’ the commission wants to foster innovative green hydrogen projects for hard-to-decarbonise industries.

As an example, von der Leyen cited the world’s first pilot plant to produce fossil-free steel, which was inaugurated by a consortium led by Swedish utility Vattenfall two weeks ago.

“This shows the potential of hydrogen to support our industry with a new, with a clean license to operate,” she said.

Another project is to build one million charging points for electric vehicles, which is slated to give a boost to e-car sales and in consequence increase the demand for renewable energy.

Von der Leyen acknowledged that raising the EU’s emission reduction target to 55% (from 40% so far) “is too much for some, and not enough for others.”

But she argued that a 25% drop in emissions since 1990 did not stand in the way of the EU’s economy growing by more than 60%, and emphasised the urgent need for it.

“Meeting this target would put the EU firmly on track for climate neutrality by 2050 and for meeting our Paris Agreement obligations. If others follow our lead, the world will be to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

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