Accelerating energy retrofits in residential buildings in Spanish cities: connecting citizen everyday needs with 2030 decarbonization objectives?



planning practices and instruments, experimental governance, urban climate governance, building retrofits, carbon-neutral cities




Climate action in cities is increasingly recognized as of strategic importance to accomplish the global governance of climate change (Bulkeley 2021; Hölscher, 2019). The building sector is pointed as a key lever to speed up the energy transition and deliver emission reductions by 2030 – in fact, 40% of Europe’s energy demand comes from buildings (UNEP, 2022). Spanish cities are translating these objectives into local action by investing in energy retrofits in residential buildings, having been further supported by the stimulus package “NextGenerationEU.” 

However, despite the policies encouraging the deployment of retrofit interventions in the past decade (mainly financial incentives) retrofitting rates remain low: demand from citizens does not take off at the speed required to meet 2030 objectives (Green Building Council España, 2021). There are specific challenges within this particular sector, but the necessity of entering into people’s homes and the need to conduct contentious processes within neighborhood communities brings to light the importance that the human factor plays in enabling energy retrofits (Abreu Oliveira and Lopes, 2017; Crosbie and Baker, 2010).

Energy retrofit challenges illustrate a broader concern in urban climate governance literature regarding the gap between citizens’ perception of what their everyday material priorities are, and the mandate that city councils need to comply with to speed up climate change action (Castán Broto and Westman, 2019; Acuto, 2014).  In response to these challenges, this research asks: what policy instruments have city councils employed to persuade citizens to connect citizens' everyday needs with the intended material transformation of the residential building stock? To respond to this question we outline contrasting implementation strategies  to accelerate residential retrofits in the cities of Madrid and Vitoria-Gasteiz, which are a part of the “EU Mission of Climate-Neutral Cities”. The goal is to better understand the effectiveness of their corresponding methods of networked governance, and their capacity to address the inherent tensions present in this urban intervention.

The study examines through qualitative analysis from participant observation and interviews with city councils, community organizers, members of the Collaboration Platform for Climate Neutrality of Spanish Cities, reports and public documents. Expected outcomes are a combination of centralized and decentralized governance networks of implementation, complementary to the current financial incentives already in place.

Author Biography

  • Ana Correa do Lago, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid

    Brazilian researcher and economist with experience in management and public affairs at Natura&Co –Brazil's leading beauty developer and one of the world's largest B-Corporations.  She holds an MSc in Urban Ecologies from Parsons School of Design, where she developed an investigation on alternative water supply systems that emerged in São Paulo, Brazil, following the water accessibility crisis of 2015. As a Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellow, her current research in urban climate governance focuses on decarbonization policies such as the energy building retrofit policies in the Spanish cities that aim to become carbon-neutral by 2030.