Reducing carbon emissions over the life of a building: opportunities in the 2022 EPBD recast

Deploying whole-life carbon (WLC) measures in the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) recast will be a win-win for energy performance and climate action at the building and industry level. A stepwise approach and a clear timeline that go beyond 2030 needs to be set out in the EPBD recast.

Buildings are one of the largest energy consumers responsible for 36% of energy related CO2 emissions, not including embodied emissions from production, construction, renovation and end-of-life. The building sector is also consuming 50% by weight of the materials we use in the EU and is responsible for 30% of the waste we generate. The EPBD recast is set to integrate measures for the decarbonisation of buildings. This move by policymakers rightly acknowledges the key role buildings should play in the clean energy transition and achieving EU climate goals by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.

However, the focus of policy measures, which has been mostly on reducing carbon emissions caused by the use of buildings, needs to be broadened. Most estimates suggest that embodied carbon accounts for about 10% of total yearly greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The relative importance is expected to grow as more buildings are constructed and renovated to higher efficiency standards and could account for over 50% of all emissions from the buildings sector in the near future.

The construction of new buildings and renovation of existing assets will need to happen without further depleting the remaining carbon budget. For the EU building sector this is estimated to be between 12 and 15 Gt CO2 – which will be used up by sometime in the 2030s unless drastic action is taken now.

Against this backdrop, this briefing argues that WLC must be embedded in construction and renovation practices in line with the EU decarbonisation target. This means securing European industry leadership in low-carbon markets and integrating WLC into the EPBD recast as a dual-energy and climate crisis solution, essentially giving the sector and industry the green light to take climate action.

Towards this end, this briefing is a call to action for policymakers to include a clear legislative roadmap for WLC into this revision of the EPBD. It provides a stepwise approach with a clear timeline to ensure that that EU will be well on track to reducing WLC emissions from now until 2030. Waiting until the next revision in 2027 will not create the momentum that is urgently needed to kick-start the process, representing years of lost time.

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