European Parliament passes EPBD recast with historic embodied carbon text

Publish date: March 14, 2023

Today, the European Parliament passed its Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) recast. Seeing the EU take this decisive action on the built environment and embodied carbon is very encouraging.  

Today, the European Parliament passed its Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) recast. Seeing the EU take this decisive action on the built environment and embodied carbon is very encouraging.  

An especially welcome aspect of this EPBD recast is that it addresses embodied carbon and whole life greenhouse gas emissions (that is, both embodied and operational emissions). Until now, embodied carbon has remained largely ignored in the EU and the building sector’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. With this EPBD recast, this is set to change.  

“This EPBD vote ensures several positive steps forward for decarbonising buildings, of which two are especially welcome to us: It will establish a harmonised framework for addressing and measuring whole-life carbon, and it will set targets for embodied carbon reduction” said Bellona Europa’s Policy Analyst Irene Domínguez. 

“The EPBD recast represents a real opportunity to accelerate the emissions reduction trajectory for embodied carbon, and we expect to see the level of action that the Parliament has now called for maintained throughout trilogues” said Senior Manager Marika Andersen. 

A strong EPBD is critical to reaching climate targets  

According to the European Commission, buildings account for approximately 40% of the EU’s total energy consumption and 36% of its CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, three out of four buildings in the EU are still energy inefficient. The EPBD recast represents a comprehensive action plan to renovate the EU’s buildings, bring down energy consumption, reduce building-related emissions and reach a climate neutral European building stock by 2050.  

Embodied carbon is estimated to account for 10-25% of the total carbon footprint of buildings. Heavy industries such as cement and steel production account for a large portion of these emissions associated with the construction, renovation, and demolition of buildings.

What the EPBD says about embodied carbon 

The EPBD recast sets out a requirement to both calculate and establish targets to reduce building related emissions throughout the building’s life-cycle.  

The European Parliament position on the EPBD that was voted on today, calls for an EU-wide framework for calculating life-cycle Global Warming Potential (GWP), and for Member States to publish roadmaps that introduce limit values and targets on life-cycle GWP. 

Each Member State has to develop national building renovation plans, including renovation targets suited to each country’s building stock and needs, and illustrate how these national targets are to be met.  

By calling for this, the EU is ensuring that high quality data on embodied carbon will be widely available to the myriad of actors in the buildings sector. Coupled with the clear signals provided by targets, this information could help trigger a scale-up of the production and use of low-carbon construction materials. In this sense, it is also important for the EPBD to be aligned with the ongoing recast of the Construction products Regulation (CPR). 

PS: What’s the deal with a fossil loophole?  

Earlier drafts of the EPBD recast laid-down a phase-out of fossil fuel boilers by 2030. This would bring the EPBD in line with other EU measures to limit fossil fuel use and wean the EU off fossil-fuel dependence. Gas still plays the largest role in heating of buildings, accounting for around 42% of energy use.  

However, in the later stages of Parliament negotiations, this ban was watered down in order to allow for so-called hybrid boilers (boilers that can for instance run on “renewable fuels”, such as green hydrogen or biofuels, or a blend of fossil and renewable gas) to be exempt from this phase-out. This loophole locks in fossil infrastructure, fosters the waste of scarcely available hydrogen through blending and slows down the transition to fully electrified systems.  

Given the current uncertainty around the adoption of a solid accounting framework for the electricity used to produce electrolytic hydrogen, betting on hydrogen for the decarbonisation of the heating sector is even more problematic: the lack of clear requirements for additionality, temporal matching and geographic correlation, means hydrogen production can result in increased emissions across the power sector and a slowed energy transition. 

“Despite clear red flags, there was little opposition to the fossil loopholes that came in disguised as hydrogen solutions and were introduced last-minute to the EPBD. It has now passed the vote in the European Parliament. We urge the trilogue negotiators to close this loophole” said Policy Advisor for Renewable Energy Systems Marta Lovisolo.