Europe not on track to deliver carbon neutral built environment by 2050

Europe not yet on track: one year on since EU Policy Roadmap launch to deliver a climate neutral built environment by 2050It has been one year today (24 May 2023), since the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) launched a new policy called the EU Policy Whole Life Carbon Roadmap, to help the European Union accelerate total decarbonisation of buildings and construction — the most heavily emitting sector in the world. Now WorldGBC and 12 European Green Building Councils (GBCs) are imploring the EU to implement the Roadmap’s principles at the scale and speed required through the announcement of BuildingLife2, a new project driving what it claims is greater transparency and accountability across the sector as it seeks to achieve the goal of a carbon neutral built environment.

Launched on 24 May 2022 at a conference attended by EU policymakers and business leaders, the EU Roadmap sets out a plan for how Europe’s built environment can support the EU to become the first carbon neutral continent. The roadmap was developed by WorldGBC’s BuildingLife project with the support of a coalition of 35+ leading industry bodies.

The one-year anniversary is aligned with the announcement of BuildingLife2 — with the project receiving a further €2.8 million of funding from the Laudes Foundations following the success of BuildingLife throughout 2022. The renewal of the project aims to increase industry transparency across Europe to demonstrate short term action to address the total environmental impact across the entire lifecycle of a building rather than empty promises. GBCs will work with their members and wider industry to produce progress reports on industry and political action. WorldGBC’s European network seeks for all of Europe to get behind BuildingLife2 and help deliver the full decarbonisation of its building stock by 2050.

Since the roadmap was launched, WorldGBC, together with other supporting organisations, have kept close tabs on the EU and national policy development to evaluate progress against the changes needed to decarbonise the building sector. It claims to have witnessed some promising signs amidst recent EU policy developments:

  • In crucial negotiations on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), the European Parliament approved an EPBD revision in March 2023 that was significantly more ambitious than the Commission’s proposal. For example, the agreement brought forward the dates for Minimum Energy Performance Standards and mandatory Whole Life Carbon (WLC) reporting, plus proposed the introduction of national WLC limit values from 2030.
  • In 2023, the European Commission intensified work on WLC, currently developing its own roadmap which aims to set out guidance for policymakers and the private sector on how to reduce the WLC impact of buildings.
  • The Commission has kickstarted work on improving the circularity of the buildings sector, launching a 12 month study into developing circularity indicators to boost data collection, as well as a study which aims to inform future End of Waste (EoW) criteria for Construction and Demolition Waste (CDW).
  • The launch of the EU Transition Pathway for Construction, which made recommendations around policy areas including WLC and circularity. The draft of the long-awaited second delegated act for the EU Taxonomy, which includes circular economy criteria for buildings, was published for consultation and includes thresholds for primary materials as well as WLC reporting requirements
  • EU funding of around €28 million is being channelled into research and innovation projects that will tackle WLC or promote circular construction under the Buit4People Public Private Partnership, which WorldGBC co-leads.

At the national level, 2023 has seen Denmark implement regulation which sets WLC limits for new buildings, while Finland adopted a new building act which will introduce mandatory WLC thresholds from 2025. In the UK, a consultation will be launched by the government this year on the introduction of mandatory WLC reporting, while Irish government ministers debated a report on embodied carbon.

WorldGBC is working with policymakers alongside GBCs and associations representing the breadth of the construction value chain to ensure that the EU Roadmap’s recommendations are implemented in EU policy in the coming years.