Greenhouse gas emissions from energy use in buildings in Europe

Greenhouse gas emissions from the EU buildings sector decreased by 35% between 2005 and 2020, largely as a result of higher energy efficiency standards for new buildings, energy efficiency improvements in existing buildings, measures to decarbonise the electricity sector, and because of warmer temperatures. The significant decline in 2020 is partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The declining emissions trend is expected to continue, but a substantial acceleration in building renovations will be needed to reach EU 2030 targets.

Published: ‒ 25min read

The buildings sector is a key contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, representing 35% of energy-related EU emissions in 2020. 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 through the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. 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 heating/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 2020, total GHG emissions from the EU buildings sector decreased by 35%. This trend has been driven largely by the EU decarbonisation strategy, which promotes simultaneous end-user electrification in the residential sector, decarbonisation of the electricity sector, and improvements of energy efficiency in buildings. A trend toward warmer winter temperatures, and therefore reduced winter heating needs, has also contributed to the emission reductions from buildings. These reductions have been partly offset by an increase in dwellings and by a larger average floor area in buildings. The decline in emissions observed in 2020 is partly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although estimates indicate a slight increase in emissions from fossil fuel use in buildings in 2021 compared to 2020, partly because of a colder winter and economic recovery, Member State projections suggest that the decreasing trend in emissions from buildings will continue.

However, the projected decline is not sufficient to meet the overall 2030 GHG emissions reduction target of net 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 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. Malta is the only Member State where emissions increased over the period 2005-2020. In all other Member States, emissions decreased, with Denmark, Greece, Slovenia and Sweden reporting the largest decreases (from 51% to 68%) and Luxembourg, Romania and Lithuania reporting the lowest decrease (between 2% and 4%).

Compared to 2005, national projections of emissions from buildings show 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 (Austria, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Sweden) are expected to result in reducing emissions from buildings by 55% or more between 2005 and 2030.

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