Europe’s building stock is both unique and heterogeneous in its expression of the cultural diversity and history of our continent. But not surprisingly, it is also old and changes very slowly. More than 220 million building units, representing 85% of the EU’s building stock, were built before 2001. 85-95% of the buildings that exist today will still be standing in 2050.
Most of those existing buildings are not energy-efficient. Many rely on fossil fuels for heating and cooling, and use old technologies and wasteful appliances. Energy poverty remains a major challenge for millions of Europeans. Overall, buildings are responsible for about 40% of the EU’s total energy consumption, and for 36% of its greenhouse gas emissions from energy.
The COVID-19 crisis has also brought into sharper focus our buildings, their importance for our lives and their fragilities.
Throughout the pandemic, the home has been the focal point of daily life for millions of Europeans: an office for those teleworking, a nursery or classroom for children and pupils, for many a hub for online shopping or downloading entertainment.
Schools had to adapt to distance learning. Hospital infrastructure has been under severe strain. Private business had to readjust to social distancing. Some of the effects of the pandemic may continue in the longer term creating new demands on our buildings and their energy and resource profile, further adding to the need to renovate them deeply and on a massive scale.
As Europe seeks to overcome the COVID-19 crisis, renovation offers a unique opportunity to rethink, redesign and modernise our buildings to make them fit for a greener and digital society and sustain economic recovery.
The Commission has proposed in the Climate Target Plan 2030 to cut net greenhouse gas emissions in the EU by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990. Energy efficiency is an essential component for action, with the building sector as one of the areas where efforts must be ramped up.
To achieve the 55% emission reduction target, by 2030 the EU should reduce buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions by 60%, their final energy consumption by 14% and energy consumption for heating and cooling by 18%4.
It is therefore urgent for the EU to focus on how to make our buildings more energy-efficient, less carbon-intensive over their full life-cycle and more sustainable. Applying circularity principles to building renovation will reduce materials-related greenhouse gas emissions for buildings.