To achieve its target of being carbon-neutral by 2050, the European Union is focusing on buildings, which account for 36 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions.
The EU Green Deal and building-related initiatives are setting a course to net zero, but how is decarbonizing the built environment faring in 2023? A variety of experts, from organizations including NGOs and the European Commission, discussed this in Circularity of buildings: how to reach EU’s targets, a POLITICO Live Working Group. POLITICO Studio sat down with some of the experts on camera after the closed-door session to capture their thoughts.
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Decarbonizing construction requires coordination and buy-in from actors at every stage of the planning process, the experts agree. That includes construction material manufacturers, city planners, architects, funders, construction companies, procurement agencies and building managers.
“To decarbonize building materials, all the relevant stakeholders need to play their part,” says Miljan Gutovic, Region Head, Europe, Holcim. “We start with decarbonizing our own operations at Holcim by using alternative fuels instead of traditional fuels, by changing formulations of our products, making them more circular, less CO2 intensive.”
Beyond legislation, from the Green Deal to Fit for 55 proposals, policymakers need to offer practical support. “To have a comprehensive approach, we also need to provide finance through financial instruments and technical advice and think about skills,” says Stefan Moser, Head of Unit, Buildings and Products, DG ENER, European Commission. “This requires a cross-cutting, systematic approach.”
Another major challenge is to get the building sector to “stick to the waste hierarchy, which means reuse before recycling,” says MEP Malte Gallée of Germany’s Green Party. “And we need European standards to push for this,” he says.
To decarbonize building materials, all the relevant stakeholders need to play their part,”
says Miljan Gutovic, Region Head, Europe, Holcim.
Reusing building materials is key to decarbonizing cities. Circular building material markets are increasingly available across Europe, reflecting local demand. “Public procurement is one of the main levers for local authorities to pursue circularity in the building sector, because actually if we want to push demand on circularity and on reuse material, we definitely need to do this requirement directly within the tender,” says Leslie Petitjean, Circular Economy Officer, International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.
A push for decarbonization doesn’t have to lead to a reduction in competitive edge for the bloc. “We need to think about how Europe’s market power can be used to create a race to the top in industry decarbonization,” says Jonas Helseth, Director at Bellona Europa.
Pursuing net-zero carbon in the built environment requires cross-sector collaboration and long-term vision. With legislative and practical support for climate-neutral construction, decarbonizing buildings can ensure a green future in Europe for generations to come.