Buildings Sector Misses Climate Protection Targets over Coronavirus Crisis
The European Union intends to be carbon-neutral by 2050, the interim target for 2030 being the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent. Germany made serious progress on its way toward carbon-neutrality last year: By the end of 2020, carbon emissions had been reduced by more than 40 percent relative to the benchmark year of 1990, so that the country cleared yet another milestone. The figure is far above expectations, even if it is largely explained by the coronavirus crisis – the same crisis that caused the carbon footprint in the buildings sector to worsen significantly.1
In concrete terms, presented in the 2020 National Climate Assessment of the Federal Government, carbon emissions were down by 40.8 percent last year. The reduction is to roughly one third attributable to the ramifications of the pandemic, without which the targets would probably not have been met, as Svenja Schulze (Christian Democrats), the Federal Minister for the Environment, admitted. But the COVID-19 crisis is also probably the decisive factor that explains the surprisingly poor performance of the buildings sector in the 2020 National Climate Assessment, making it the only sector that missed its targets: The permissible maximum output of 120 million tons carbon dioxide equivalent was exceeded by two percent despite a modest reduction since 2019. By contrast, the sectors energy, agriculture, waste and transportation rolled back their carbon emissions in line with their targets in 2020. As a consequence of the missed target, the buildings sector will have to present an action plan for immediate steps within the next three months.
Working from Home Causes Extra Output
The background to the dismal score of the buildings sector during the pandemic year of 2020 includes, for instance, the burden added by the shift toward working from home, which caused residential properties to be heated more extensively while “non-residential buildings” continued to operate even when used less or not at all. By contrast, the climate footprint of other sectors benefited at least to some extent from the reduced mobility in the wake of the corona lockdown. With a one-year drop of 14.5 percent, the largest savings in carbon dioxide emissions were reported by the energy sector. In the transport sector, the decline equalled 11.4 percent.
In response to the results quoted in the National Climate Assessment, the pace of the energy refurbishment of buildings should be stepped up, demanded Jan Peter Hinrichs, the managing director of the Federal Association of Energy Efficient Building Envelopes (BuVEG). He went on to say that buildings upgraded now should already be “compatible with the 2050 climate targets.” Otherwise, he added, the buildings sector would continue to miss its climate targets in future.
Thomas Zinnöcker, vice-president of the ZIA German Property Federation, believes the buildings sector is well on track to meet the targets: He quoted carbon emission savings of 90 million tons since 1990. He blames the failure to meet the 2020 climate targets primarily on certain reforms that have yet to be tackled. That said, the federal funding program for efficient buildings, which went live on 1 January, makes him feel optimistic. In addition, however, he believes the body politic has some homework to do: “The common climate goal can only be achieved by reducing allthe red tape involved, which is harmful to the climate effort, by specifically promoting investments in energy-efficient building refurbishments, and also by eliminating tax obstacles,” said Zinnöcker, reiterating previously voiced demands.
Quite a Bit Accomplished over the Past 30 Years
The buildings sector accounts for any emission from combustion processes, specifically the carbon output caused by heating, cooking and providing hot water. District heating and electricity, by contrast, are grouped with the energy industry as “indirect emissions.” Greenhouse gas emissions generated in connection with the construction or reinstatement of buildings are labelled as grey emissions and grouped with the industrial sector. As of 2018, the buildings sector was responsible for more than a quarter of all carbon emissions in Germany, indirect and grey emissions included.
Generally speaking, carbon emissions have already gone down significantly nationwide since 1990: A decrease by 35.7 percent was already achieved by 2019, according to the Climate Protection Report. Even in the buildings sector, considerable progress has been made over the past three decades, which can be largely credited to the reduced consumption of heating oil in favour of renewable energies and district heating. In its efforts to meet the climate targets, the German Government also focuses on sustainable building and insulation materials, consideration of the full life cycle of building materials, as well as on air conditioning and ventilation systems.