Discussion paper

The zero carbon and circular economy challenge in the built environment: policy options for the European Union and its member states

Sustainable building design and construction Circular economy Carbon emissions Nature-based solutions European Union

This paper on the zero carbon and circular challenge in the built environment puts forward several policy recommendations. In order to achieve the net-zero carbon goal by 2050, adapting the built environment is paramount: the EU estimates that the climate change-related damage to infrastructure could grow tenfold under a business-as-usual scenario. The paper advocates the need to come up with a comprehensive strategy for the building and construction sector which should build on the principles of sustainability and circularity. It also highlights the societal benefit generated by energy renovation and building upgrades.

The paper touches upon several key aspects of the circularity challenge, namely, building design, the construction material challenge, urban biodiversity and buildings in the energy system.

Changing how people construct, heat and cool the buildings will trigger positive change in many neighbouring sectors, including energy and heavy industry, but also in sectors which at first sight may seem less connected, such as health and education.

This paper intends to describe these opportunities and proposes policy solutions which could form the core of a reinvigorated European initiative to tie the circular economy closely to achieving Europe’s zero-carbon building stock. It also repeatedly makes recommendations for actions by actors in the construction sector value chain. As such, the paper is rather a contribution to the debate than a verified description of a transformational pathway.

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