Whole-life Carbon Metrics: Recommendations For Highly Efficient and Climate-Neutral Buildings

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  • Policy efforts to decarbonise Europe’s building stock have, so far, focused on energy efficiency measures and thereby reducing the energy demand, and related carbon emissions, for heating, cooling and lighting of the building during its operational lifetime.
  • This is a well-justified focus but only part of the overall effort needed to achieve a climate-neutral Europe. With the drive towards reducing in-use energy to “nearly zero”, the other sources of carbon emissions from buildings become increasingly important and therefore a vital part of future carbon reduction plans. 
  • For new buildings built to the highest energy efficiency standards, the extremely low operational energy requirements mean that embodied carbon becomes the most significant area of carbon emissions over the lifetime of the building.

“For new buildings built to the highest energy efficiency standards, the low operational energy demand means that embodied carbon becomes the most significant source of carbon emissions over the building’s lifetime,” says Oliver Rapf, Executive Director of BPIE.

Embodied carbon emissions are associated with energy consumption and chemical processes during raw material extraction, manufacture, transportation, assembly, replacement, construction, demolition and disposal of buildings, accounting for approximately 10-20% of EU buildings’ CO2 footprint.

To address this ‘hidden’ carbon footprint, BPIE suggests a common European approach to whole-life carbon (WLC) emissions of the building stock, which should yield additional benefits in terms of greater transparency, comparability, and monitoring of progress across borders and industries.

Achieving a common EU approach requires intensified coordination across policy measures addressing and affecting the different stages of the construction value chain. However, BPIE finds that the introduction of a ‘2050 whole life-cycle performance roadmap’ scheduled for 2023 is out of sync with the current legislative review process.

The ongoing review of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) and the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) provides a significant opportunity for the EU to begin consistently integrating WLC thinking and principles in the regulatory framework.

“Whole-life carbon in buildings and construction should be carefully considered now in 2021. Policy action taken by a number of Member States demonstrate that whole-life carbon policies are possible and desirable. The European Commission should reflect this in its forthcoming proposals to make sure that we don’t lose time in the fight against climate change.” Rapf concludes.

Link to the policy briefing HERE 

Author: Bryan Groenendaal


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