Green building momentum: 2023 concludes with some steady strides toward more sustainable buildings 

Publish date: December 12, 2023

Commitment to decarbonising and greening the building sector has gained some traction recently, with numerous international initiatives as well as landmark EU policy revisions taking shape. From global pledges to EU legislative milestones, the journey toward near-zero emission and resilient buildings looks to be gaining momentum. 

Global initiatives setting the stage for green lead markets  

With COP28 in Dubai as a backdrop, several initiatives have taken shape. It all began with a pledge from 118 countries to double their rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030. This showcases a collective commitment to addressing the environmental impact of buildings. Then, a groundbreaking “Buildings Breakthrough” coalition emerged at COP28, comprised of 27 countries dedicated to delivering buildings with near-zero emissions and enhanced resilience. 

In a move towards sustainable construction materials, the Industrial Deep Decarbonisation Initiative (IDDI) made waves at COP28. With influential players such as Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the initiative signed The Green Public Procurement Pledge. This pledge aims to drive market demand for low and near-zero-emission steel, cement, and concrete, showcasing a concerted effort to transform the entire lifecycle of building materials. 

EU navigates political hurdles to deliver agreements before end of year and Spanish Council Presidency 

Meanwhile, the European Union led by the Spanish Presidency has also successfully navigated crucial legislative processes to propel the green building agenda forward. 

A significant step forward for the green building sector came on December 7th with a political agreement on the recast of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). The agreement takes ground-breaking steps in stating that from 2030 onward, governments will have to calculate the global warming potential (GWP) of all new EU buildings across their entire lifecycle. This includes setting national-level targets to reduce both operational and embodied carbon emissions. This marks a meaningful step forward in tackling embodied carbon emissions which, as buildings become more and more energy efficient, will also need concerted effort. These changes hold the potential to increase the use of and create lead markets for lower carbon construction materials, such as cement with CCS, as well as promote circularity in construction projects.  

However, the general ambition level of the EPBD is significantly lower than hoped for. The revised text also sets out minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) for buildings that have been lowered and which give Member States far more mandate than originally foreseen by the Commission’s proposal and the Parliament’s position.  

    «Despite a lower general ambition level than we’d hoped to see, on embodied carbon the EPBD signals a shift towards an EU buildings and construction sector that better addresses whole life cycle emissions, which is a crucial step in mitigating the massive environmental impact of the built environment.»

    Irene Domínguez

    Policy Advisor, Embodied Carbon

    Earlier in the week, on December 4th, negotiators reached agreement on the revised Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR). The key points of the agreement include an expansion of products to be covered under these new Ecodesign rules, to include CO2-emission-intensive sectors like iron, steel, and aluminium. Crucially, these sectors are also included in a prioritised category, where they will be subject to a three-year work plan to be adopted within nine months.  

    Furthermore, the ESPR agreement included amendments introduced with the intention to safeguard similar acceleration to sustainable materials for the cement sector. Cement, contrary to the abovementioned construction materials, falls under the remit of the Construction Products Regulation (CPR). However, should the CPR fail to adequately address cement decarbonisation, the ESPR provides a safety net whereby cement would become a priority category within the next workplan of the ESPR.  

    The Construction Products Regulation (CPR) remains in negotiations, awaiting conclusions that will further shape the future of sustainable buildings and construction materials. All in all, these strides illustrate a building momentum to tackle construction sector emissions.  

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