The EU needs a whole-life carbon roadmap for buildings

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EU policymakers should deliver a comprehensive whole-life carbon roadmap in the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. A strong stance on whole-life carbon impacts would have the power to nudge national governments and industry towards decisive climate action, writes Zsolt Toth. 

Zsolt Toth is team lead at the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE). 

It is by now common knowledge that EU buildings represent 36% of our CO2 emissions. However, this number does not account for embodied emissions from production, construction, renovation and demolition, which represent substantial carbon savings potential. 

Embodied emissions are indicative of 50% of EU material consumption and 30% of the waste contribution from buildings. These emissions also represent 10% of global CO2 emissions and are expected to grow substantially as developed countries renovate their ageing building stock, and developing regions intensively build to house rapidly growing populations.

The good news: the ongoing negotiations on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), expected to conclude in summer 2023, represent a unique opportunity to broaden the narrative on building decarbonisation to include the full range of building emissions, and put an actionable framework into place. 

For this to happen, the Parliament position to be provisionally agreed upon in the coming weeks, and voted upon in January, must now bring a comprehensive regulatory roadmap on whole-life carbon (WLC) to the negotiating table. 

Lack of synchronisation in EPBD proposal must be urgently addressed

It is peculiar that WLC has remained peripheral in negotiations. And gaping holes in the Commission’s EPBD proposal were not adequately addressed in the general approach of the Council agreed late October. 

The Commission’s proposal is playing catch-up with many national-level WLC policies. This lack of synchronisation runs the risk that policies addressing different stages of the construction value chain will not be coordinated, resulting in a disparity between climate policies for buildings across member states, and greater market fragmentation.

The EPBD recast will arrive alongside an EU-wide whole-life carbon roadmap, currently being developed to guide how all emissions related to buildings can and should be reduced.

The EPBD should therefore secure the principle and sequence of regulatory measures with corresponding deadlines to regulate WLC, beginning with measurement and disclosure and continuing with limit values (when these become available). The principle and regulatory sequence should be secured now. 

Waiting for the next revision in 2027 to start this work would mean losing a decade for EU industry and climate progress, and puts existing EU policies at risk of becoming irrelevant for the decarbonisation of the built environment. 

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