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Greenhouse gas emissions from EU buildings decreased by 31% between 2005 and 2021. This progress was driven by higher energy efficiency standards for new buildings, energy efficiency improvements in existing buildings, decarbonisation of the electricity and heating sectors, and warmer temperatures. However, in 2021 emissions rebounded, partly due to a colder winter and economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the longer term, the trend toward declining emissions is expected to continue, but a substantial acceleration in energy renovations is needed to reach EU 2030 targets.
The buildings sector is a key contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, representing 35% of energy-related EU emissions in 2021. These emissions result partly from the direct use of fossil fuels in buildings (e.g., oil and gas used in boilers for heating) and partly from the production of electricity and heat for use in buildings (e.g., electricity consumed by water heaters, lighting, electrical devices, cooling systems, etc.).
The European Green Deal , the Renovation Wave Initiative , and the EU’s recovery plan place a strong emphasis on reductions in GHG emissions and energy use from buildings. The REPowerEU plan published by the European Commission in May 2022, which aims to end the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels while tackling the climate crisis, calls for additional savings and energy efficiency gains in buildings, particularly through the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (currently under negotation). It also introduces the European Solar Rooftop Initiative with a proposal for a legally binding EU solar rooftop obligation for certain categories of buildings.
Improvements to buildings, such as better insulation and decarbonised heating and cooling systems, can help reduce emissions from fossil fuel use. While often providing a lower-emitting alternative, heating systems such as heat pumps increase a building’s use of electricity. Unless this electricity demand is met by the production of renewable or decarbonised energy, this can lead to a sectoral shift in emissions from the buildings to the electricity sector.
Between 2005 and 2021, total GHG emissions from the EU buildings sector fell by 31%. This trend, driven largely by the EU decarbonisation strategy, promotes simultaneous end-user electrification in the residential sector, decarbonisation of the electricity sector, and improvements of energy efficiency in buildings. A general trend toward warmer winter temperatures, and therefore reduced winter heating needs, has also contributed to the emission reductions from buildings recently. These reductions have been partly offset by an increase in the number of dwellings and a larger average floor area in buildings. The decline in emissions observed in 2020 is partly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, while the rebound in 2021 is linked to to a colder winter and economic recovery.
Estimates for 2022 indicate a slight decrease in emissions from fossil fuel use in buildings compared to 2021, again because of a warmer winter, active demand reduction campaigns and high energy prices. In the longer term, Member State projections suggest that the decreasing trend in emissions from buildings will continue.
However, the projected decline will not be sufficient to meet the overall 2030 GHG emissions reduction target of net 55%, compared with 1990 levels. This would require a reduction in emissions from the buildings sector of 60% compared to 2015 level, as set out in the EU’s renovation wave. To achieve this, the renovation wave aims to at least double the annual energy renovation rate (which is currently at 1%) of residential and non-residential buildings by 2030 and to foster deep energy renovations to reduce buildings’ energy consumption .
Historical and projected emissions from the use of fossil fuels in buildings differ significantly from one Member State to another. Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta and Romania are the only Member States where emissions increased over the period 2005-2021. In all other Member States, emissions decreased, with Denmark, Greece, Slovenia and Sweden reporting the largest reductions (from 54% to 64%) and Luxembourg, Romania and Lithuania reporting the lowest decrease (between 1% and 10%).
Compared to 2005, national projections of emissions from buildings foresee a further decrease in emissions by 2030 in all but two Member States: Malta, for which the increase correlates to increased electricity use for air conditioning; and Romania because of projected higher income levels. At the same time, additional measures in eight countries (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden) are expected to result in reducing emissions from buildings by 55% or more between 2005 and 2030.