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Climate impact of new buildings much too high, report finds

A failure to decarbonise newly constructed buildings could prevent the EU from achieving its climate targets for 2030 and 2050, according to a recent report, Ready for carbon neutral by 2050? Assessing ambition levels in new building standards across the EU, published by BPIE (Buildings Performance Institute Europe).

A close examination of six EU focus geographies shines a spotlight on wide-ranging discrepancies between EU countries’ performance standards for new buildings, both in terms of consistency regarding the definition of Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (‘NZEBs’) as laid out in the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), and in terms of overall ambition levels.

Governments need to align the national building-sector decarbonisation efforts with the EU’s wider climate change mitigation ambition, but the current policy framework does not encourage Member States to move in a consistent and concerted way towards carbon neutrality by 2050. Not one of the focus geographies featured inthe report, for example, has a set date by which new construction will meet a Net Zero energy and carbon level. In fact, the EPBD definition of ‘NZEB’, and therefore the standard applying to new buildings being constructed, has not been changed for more than 10 years.

While the European Commission’s December 15 proposal for a revised EPBD proposes an updated definition, BPIE warns that the current proposal is weak: zero emission building stockis solely defined in terms of operational energy, and the levels of energy performance are not more ambitious than the ones previously recommended by the Commission in 2016 (which they should be).

“There are encouraging changes in the policy landscape, but unless all EU Member States become more ambitious, energy and carbon emissions reductions in the buildings sector are likely to fall short in the quest to meet Europe’s 2050 decarbonisation objectives,” says BPIE executive director Oliver Rapf.

Among its policy recommendations, BPIE insiststhat the revised EPBD should intensify focus on reducing energy demand and implementing the energy efficiency first principle. This would include more ambitious provisions on maximum energy-consumption levels and the use of renewable energy sources, in addition to a fossil-fuel phase-out plan. Metrics to measure operational and embedded carbon emissions, prior to setting carbon limits should also be included in the EPBD revision. There is also a clear need to integrate metrics to measure operational and embedded carbon emissions, and to set carbon limits, taking in to account the ‘whole life cycle’ perspective.

“Both the European Commission and EU Member States should read this report as a red flag that the energy transition is not on track,” concludes Rapf. “New buildings are creating a carbon legacy which will generate costs for many decades to come. The revision of the EPBD this year is the opportunity to introduce a zero carbon rule for new buildings.”

18 January 2022

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