Background to the Buildings Directive (EPBD)

Background to the Buildings Directive (EPBD) and what the EU hopes to achieve in Member States as a result of introducing the EPBD.

The greenhouse effect helps to regulate the temperature of our planet. It is essential for life on Earth and is one of Earth’s natural processes. It is the result of heat absorption by certain gases in the atmosphere (called greenhouse gases because they effectively ‘trap’ heat in the lower atmosphere) and re-radiation downward of some of that heat.

Without a natural greenhouse effect, the temperature of the Earth would be about  -18°C instead of its present 14°C. The concern is not with the fact that we have a greenhouse effect, but whether human activities are leading to an enhancement of the greenhouse effect. Human activity has been increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (mostly carbon dioxide from combustion of coal, oil, and gas; plus a few other trace gases). There is no scientific debate on this point.

Pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide (prior to the start of the Industrial Revolution) were about 280 parts per million by volume (ppmv), and current levels are about 370 ppmv. The concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere today, has not been exceeded in the last 420,000 years, and likely not in the last 20 million years. According to the IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES), by the end of the 21st century, we could expect to see carbon dioxide concentrations of anywhere from 490 to 1260 ppm (75-350% above the pre-industrial concentration). Models referenced by the IPCC predict that global temperatures are likely to increase by 1.1 to 6.4 °C (2.0 to 11.5 °F) between 1990 and 2100.

This increase in global temperature is likely to have many knock on effects such as rising sea levels caused by the melting of glaciers and polar icecaps, changes in precipitation patterns and more frequent and intense storms. Other consequences include changes in agricultural yield, species extinction and the spread of disease previously confined to hotter regions of the globe.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is an amendment to the international treaty on climate change, assigning mandatory emission limitations for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to the signatory nations. Consequently, the European Union has recognised the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions particularly CO2, the most significant greenhouse gas.

Energy consumption for heating, cooling, lighting and other services in buildings gives rise to nearly half of all energy related CO2 emissions and is increasing all the time. EU research has indicated that CO2 emissions from buildings could be reduced by as much as 22% through improved energy efficiency. In 2000, the EU Commission’s Action Plan on Energy Efficiency indicated the need for the introduction of specific measures in the building sector.

In response, the Commission published the proposed Energy Performance of Buildings Directive in May 2001. It was adopted by the European Parliament and Council on 16 December 2002.

Upon its publication in the EU Official Journal on 4 January 2003, the Directive became European law.
The EU hopes that the introduction of the EPBD will promote improvements in energy performance of all buildings across Europe – homes, commercial buildings and even public buildings. It will do this by informing consumers and enabling them for the first time to take the energy efficiency of a building into consideration in choosing and improving a property.

The Directive requires that when buildings (residential and non-residential) are constructed, sold or rented out, a Building Energy Rating is provided by the owner to the prospective buyer or tenant (similar to the energy labelling of household appliances). It thus obliges Member States to make energy performance a visible factor in the property market.

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