Greenhouse gas emissions from energy use in buildings in Europe

Greenhouse gas emissions from the EU buildings sector decreased by 29% between 2005 and 2019, largely as a result of higher energy efficiency standards for new buildings, energy efficiency improvements in existing buildings and measures to decarbonise the electricity sector, driven by EU policy initiatives and because of warmer temperatures. The trend for declining emissions is expected to continue, but a substantial increase in the building renovation rate will be needed to reach the 60% reduction in emissions in the buildings sector needed to achieve the overall EU 2030 emissions reduction target of 55%.

Published: ‒ 25min read

Emissions from fossil fuel used in buildings are covered by the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD), which sets individual national targets for sectors not covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). Emissions resulting from electricity generation by the power sector, however, are covered by the EU ETS. The European Green Deal, the Renovation Wave Initiative, and the EU’s recovery plan place a reduction in GHG emissions from buildings at the centre of EU climate and development actions, and the recent ‘Fit for 55’ package proposes strengthening legislation related to emissions from buildings.

Improvements to buildings such as better insulation and heating/cooling systems might reduce emissions from fossil fuels use. However, an alternative heating system (e.g., heat pump) could increase a building’s use of electricity. Unless this electricity demand is met by the production of renewable or decarbonised energy, this would lead to higher emissions from the electricity sector.

Between 2005 and 2019, total GHG emissions from the EU buildings sector decreased by 29%. This trend has been driven largely by the EU decarbonisation strategy, which promotes end-user electrification in the residential sector, coupled with the decarbonisation of the electricity sector, and the improvement of energy efficiency in buildings and warmer winter temperatures. These reductions were partly offset by the increase in dwellings and by a larger average floor area in buildings. Member State projections suggest that the decreasing emissions trend will continue.

However, the projected decline is not sufficient to meet the overall 2030 GHG emissions reduction target of 55%, compared with 1990 levels, which would require a reduction in emissions from the buildings sector of 60%, 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, that is, renovations that would reduce buildings’ energy consumption by at least 60% (EC, 2020).

Historical and projected emissions from the use of fossil fuels in buildings differ significantly from one Member State to another. In three Member States (Lithuania, Luxembourg and Malta), emissions increased slightly over the period 2005-2019. In all other Member States, emissions decreased, with Denmark, Greece, Slovenia and Sweden reporting the largest decreases (between 49% and 64%).

National projections of emissions from buildings without additional measures show an increase in five Member States (Croatia, Cyprus, Malta, Romania and Spain) in the coming years if only current measures remain in place. However, if the additional measures currently planned at national level are implemented, emissions are expected to increase in only two of these Member States (Malta and Romania). Moreover, if additional measures are implemented, emissions from buildings in five countries (Czechia, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg and Slovenia) are expected to decrease by 40% or more between 2020 and 2030.

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