Renovation strategies will not deliver net-zero by 2050

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

EU member states continue to underplay the role of the building sector in reaching net zero emissions by 2050, despite the fact that buildings account for 40% of Europe's energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions, writes Oliver Rapf. [Scaffold Pole / Flickr]

The European Union must set a precent of maximum ambition in the proposed revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), expected in Q4 this year, writes Oliver Rapf. Aiming anywhere below 100% misses the mark, he argues.

Oliver Rapf is executive director of the Buildings Performance Institute Europe.

Are member states on track to deliver full decarbonisation of the building stock and realise our goal of a Renovation Wave in Europe, ensuring total decarbonisation of the building stock by 2050?

Following an analysis in September 2020 of the compliance of EU member states’ Long-Term Renovation Strategies (LTRS) with the requirements of the energy performance of buildings directive (EPBD), BPIE performed a deep-dive into eight LTRS strategies (accounting for over 50% of the EU population), based on supporting policies, targets, and funding schemes, in an effort to answer this question: are LTRS ambitious enough when it comes to decarbonising the building stock?

The results of our study are underwhelming. While some improvements have been made, we found that overall, member states continue to underplay the role of the building sector in the decarbonisation of Europe, and none of the strategies are in line with achieving climate-neutrality by 2050.

Why the buildings directive and long term renovation strategies matter

Buildings are responsible for 36% of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU; reaching our climate targets requires a clear roadmap to decarbonising our living and working spaces. The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive 2010/31/EU (EPBD), amended in 2018, together with the Energy Efficiency Directive 2012/27/EU (EED) is meant to trigger policies in the EU-27 towards achieving a highly energy efficient and decarbonised building stock by 2050, while providing a stable environment for investment decisions and enabling consumers and businesses to make more informed choices to save energy and money.

A key pillar of the EPBD is the Long-Term Renovation Strategy (LTRS), which should enable implementation of these efforts on the ground through strategic planning, effective policies and financial support.

LTRS requires member states to develop and measure progress, provide indicative milestones for 2030, 2040, and 2050, as well as estimate the expected energy savings and wider benefits, and the contribution of building renovation to the Union’s energy efficiency target. As of March 10th 2021, one year from the deadline, twenty countries have submitted their LTRS, including all three Belgian regions. Seven country strategies are still missing.

Strategies are not aligned with renovation wave

Our most recent analysis of 2020 strategies shows that LTRS are not in line to meet the EPBD objective of a highly efficient and decarbonised building stock by 2050. To achieve this goal, deep renovation rates must reach at least 3% by 2030, which is significantly higher than what the European Commission proposed in its Renovation Wave last year.

The strategies also fail to provide sufficient detail over the entire period to 2050 to enable an evaluation of whether the supporting policies and financial arrangements are adequate to meet the goals.

Most strategies appear to put more effort towards decarbonising energy supply systems and greenhouse gas emissions reduction, rather than actively improving the energy performance of buildings, reducing overall the energy consumption in this sector.

While both are clearly needed, a greater focus on energy performance would bring with it many economic, environmental and societal benefits, such as improved indoor air quality, better health, job creation and alleviation of energy poverty.

Strategies should aim for full decarbonisation and align with 2030 target

If Europe is serious about reaching climate-neutrality by 2050, now is the time for member states to seek 100% decarbonisation of their building stock and ensure their long-term renovation strategies deliver this goal. This could be done through a reworking of their 2020 strategies in the near future, but certainly no later than the deadline for the next iteration, in 2024.

Through ongoing work at BPIE, we have noted a common trend of late submissions and incomplete or uncompliant strategies since 2014. It would appear that developing an LTRS is treated more as an obligatory “homework” assignment for member states, as opposed to a real strategic tool at national level towards achieving the economic and social benefits that highly energy efficient, decarbonised and healthy buildings can bring.

It is crucial that the European Commission monitors closely whether LTRS align with the Renovation Wave and the new 2030 Climate Target. The Commission should assess all Member State long-term renovation strategies not only in accordance with the legal text of EPBD Article 2a, but also in view of aligning with the climate neutrality objective by 2050 (meaning a higher decarbonisation objective and stronger emphasis on reducing the energy demand in the buildings sector), and guide Member States accordingly for their LTRS update which is due by 2024 at the latest.

The Renovation Wave strategy should also be adjusted to deliver a 3% annual deep renovation rate by 2030 and should fully align the building sector with the climate neutrality objective of 2050.

A full revision of the buildings directive is needed this year

The revision process of the EPBD, which has now begun with the European Commission’s Inception Impact Assessment (open until March 22), offers the opportunity to ensure a much stronger place for buildings in member states’ decarbonisation plans.

Three years after the previous partial amendment, the revision should respond to Europe’s strengthened commitment to fight climate change. Targeted amendments of selected articles alone is insufficient to achieve real results. If this is the path the European Commission chooses, we are likely to be back reviewing the legislation again a couple years from now. But no one has time or energy for this, and the climate won’t wait.

The EPBD should therefore aim at triggering building renovation at the scale required to reach a “highly efficient and fully decarbonised building stock”, which we know is foundational to reaching our Climate Targets. A full revision of the EPBD, as opposed to a cherry-picking approach, is needed if we are serious about achieving climate-neutrality by 2050.  Any change to the EPBD this time around must secure full alignment with the EU Climate Targets.

This has to be a top priority for the European Commission and member states alike – we must start as we mean to go on. The European Commission has made major strides by putting buildings at the heart of the Green Deal and including the Renovation Wave in its recovery and resilience plans.

Now to deliver on this strategy, it must set a precent of maximum ambition in the proposed EPBD revisions expected for Q4 of this year. Member states in turn should immediately increase the ambition of their current decarbonisation targets. Aiming anywhere below 100% misses the mark.

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