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EU Roadmap Series – Part 2: Building Regulations

By Zsolt Toth, Team Leader at the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE)

At the end of May 2022, WorldGBC launched an EU Policy Whole Life Carbon Roadmap for the built environment.

In this series of blogs from WorldGBC, we are going to look at how we developed the Roadmap, at our vision for a decarbonised built environment and how to get there. We’ll be speaking to some of the people who were involved in the process along the way to get their insights on how this Roadmap can catalyse political action and the steps we can all take to support its implementation.

In this second instalment, Zsolt Toth, Team Leader at Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), explores the role of Building Regulations in decarbonising the EU’s built environment.

Why does building regulation matter?

The EU’s ultimate goal is to achieve a highly energy efficient and decarbonised building stock by 2050, in line with the EU Green Deal’s goal of climate neutrality across the bloc by the same year.

In light of this, updating building regulations at the EU level to tackle the full environmental impact of the built environment is a crucial way to mandate low-carbon construction for new builds and renovation. These regulations dictate the standards to which buildings must be constructed and renovated across Member States as well as what data must be reported.

Policy efforts to decarbonise Europe’s building stock have until now primarily focused on energy efficiency and measures to decarbonise heating and cooling.

This focus on energy efficiency is important, and more must be done to address this as the operational carbon of buildings is still considerable. However, embodied carbon in buildings, i.e. all emissions associated with materials and construction processes, needs to be tackled soon to avoid undermining the carbon reductions achieved from the energy saving measures.

To address these other emissions, EU policymakers will need to mandate the methodology for reporting the embodied carbon of the manufacturing, transportation, construction, renovation and end-of-life phases of built assets, and then go further by setting targets to reduce it.

Which building regulations need to be addressed?

The main directive that we looked at as part of the development of the Roadmap is the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). This is particularly relevant at present as it is under review as part of the Fit for 55 package, which is designed to help deliver the EU’s intermediary climate target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030.

The EPBD covers a range of policies to help national governments boost buildings’ energy performance and improve the existing building stock, including setting standards for Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) for existing buildings, and for new buildings, such as Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEBs) and Zero Emissions Buildings (ZEBs) standards.

Other relevant regulation that will need to be addressed to tackle the environmental impact of buildings includes the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), which covers energy efficiency in a range of sectors, with public buildings being a particular focus, and the Construction Product Regulation  (CPR) which should provide accurate, reliable and accessible information on the environmental performance of products.

What should be the priorities for EU building regulation going forward?

The current EU renovation rates of 1.2% to 1.4% are insufficient to achieve the aim of climate neutrality set by the EU Green Deal. Building regulation must urgently evolve to bring about an increase to an annual renovation rate of at least 3%. Key measures to achieve this increase include the introduction of Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS), Building Renovation Passports and the improvement and harmonisation of the Energy Performance Certificate framework. You can read more detail about how these and other measures could be introduced in the EU Policy Roadmap as well as BPIE’s report on how to embed Whole Life Carbon (WLC) into the EPBD.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the urgent need to reduce Europe’s energy demand as well as to move buildings away from the use of natural gas. The effective implementation of EU policy instruments such as the EPBD and the EED and the execution of the REPowerEU plan are crucial to drive this change by accelerating the decarbonisation of Europe’s buildings and improving energy efficiency.

Beyond operational carbon, EU policymakers will need to enforce WLC reporting for all new buildings and major renovations as a matter of urgency. Only then will it be possible to develop proper benchmarking and targets to bring building policies in line with long-term carbon neutrality goals. Policymakers should therefore provide a sequence of key regulatory measures and indicate the timeline for the introduction of requirements to reduce carbon emissions along the entire lifecycle of buildings going beyond the 2030, which is the cut-off date of measures foreseen in the current revision of EPBD.

As a measure to ensure cohesive action on tackling Whole Life Carbon in buildings, our EU Policy Roadmap made a recommendation for policymakers to introduce ‘Climate Action Roadmaps’ at the building and national level.

At the national level, these Roadmaps would replace Long Term Renovation Strategies, and outline a trajectory towards net zero WLC buildings by 2050, which would be continuously monitored by the EU against a harmonised set of indicators.

At the individual building level, the Roadmaps would incorporate Building Renovation Passports (BRPs), demonstrating how the building would achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Digital building logbooks, as common repositories of all relevant building data, can support these roadmaps and aid in overcoming persistent data gaps, as well as getting the right data to the right stakeholder at the consequential stages of decision making.

Zsolt Toth is Team Leader at the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE). The BPIE regularly releases reports and studies around the decarbonisation of Europe’s buildings. For their latest publications, see their website.