In advance of the global Net Zero Summit on 31 March European Union member states have drawn fire for inadequate targets on energy efficient building renovation as part of their strategies for reaching climate-neutrality. That’s the view in a new report from the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), a European not-for-profit think-tank.

Net Zero Summit

The summit is a critical milestone on the road to COP26 in Glasgow in November and is to be chaired by IEA executive director Fatih Birol and COP26 president Alok Sharma, the former UK secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy.

The world’s major emitters will be hammering out their strategies, along with US Presidential special envoy for climate John Kerry, Chinese special envoy on climate change Xie Zhenhua, European Commission executive vice-president Frans Timmermans and Indian minister of power, new and renewable energy Raj Kumar Singh. Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison is expected to attend.

But observers say “his position continues to shift how he talks about the climate crisis without making new commitments to address it” with British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab expressing “confidence the Morrison government would ‘step up to the plate’ on climate”.

Ministerial panels will cover the following key issues for global clean energy transitions: 

  • ensuring people-centred transitions
  • catalysing near-term implementation 
  • accelerating technology and innovation by sector
  • mobilising clean energy investment.

With the IEA scheduled to provide a comprehensive roadmap for the global energy sector to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 May, building energy efficiency is expected to p lay a crucial part.

Long-term renovation strategies

The BPIE’s report is based on detailed analysis of eight long-term renovation strategies (LTRS) accounting for over half of the EU population, and finds that most will miss the European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive’s target of a highly efficient and decarbonised building stock, and none of the strategies are in line with the EU’s objective of achieving climate-neutrality by 2050.

The road to net zero for EU buildings as seen by the European Union

The Renovation Wave strategy aims to improve the energy performance of buildings, leading to a 60 per cent cut in GHG emissions from buildings by 2030 compared to 2015.

The Wave is supposed to at least double renovation rates from around 1 per cent per year in the next decade, to improve building occupants’ quality of life, reduce energy poverty and emissions, support digitalisation and the reuse and recycling of materials and create an additional 160,000 jobs in the construction sector by 2030.

The BPIE wants to see the Renovation Wave target rate increased to 3 per cent by 2030, as well as an alignment of the building sector with the 2050 net zero goal.

This goal is in the European Green Deal, and the European Commission has proposed to enshrine it in legislation with the Climate Law, as well as increasing the 2030 emissions reduction target from 40 per cent to at least 55 per cent compared to 1990.

Buildings sector “needs to step up”

This has huge implications for policies in the buildings sector, which is responsible for around 36 per cent of EU greenhouse gas emissions.

The gap between member states’ actual aims and the policy aims means that the 3 per cent annual deep renovation needed to meet 2030 targets is unlikely to be achieved.

None of the eight strategies analysed by BPIE targets 100 per cent decarbonisation of the building stock.

Nor do they provide sufficient detail over the entire period to 2050 to enable an evaluation of whether arrangements are adequate to meet the goals.

Only Spain has set a goal – 98.8 per cent reduction in GHG emissions – that approaches full decarbonisation of the building stock. Most are in the range of 23.5-70 per cent.

Only Estonia (59 per cent) and Finland (55 per cent) have energy saving targets for the whole building sector in excess of 50 per cent.

Belgium’s target of 70 per cent applies only to residential buildings, while for non-residential it is 33 per cent.

Oliver Rapf, executive director at BPIE, says, “It is clear that EPBD needs a full review and not just a targeted amendment.” The European Commission is not presently due to propose amendments until the last quarter of this year.

According to the analysis, making buildings energy efficient seems to have a lower strategic importance to member states than decarbonising the energy supply, which is given greater priority at the expense of improving the overall efficiency of buildings, which would reduce demand and hence the cost of new generation plant.

Emissions from buildings are rising worldwide

According to the International Energy Agency, buildings’ direct and indirect emissions from electricity and commercial heat rose in 2019 to the highest level ever recorded – 10 GtCO2.

They attribute this to growing energy demand for heating and cooling with rising airconditioner ownership and extreme weather events.

“Enormous emissions reduction potential remains untapped due to the continued use of fossil fuel-based assets, a lack of effective energy-efficiency policies and insufficient investment in sustainable buildings,” says the IEA.

The BPIE publishes case studies of best practice – including on financing models – to support the industry.

David Thorpe is the author of  Energy Management in Buildings and ‘‘One Planet’ Cities: Sustaining Humanity within Planetary Limits and Director of the One Planet Centre Community Interest Company in the UK.