Buildings

Garden in side WUR building

Image credits: WUR

Key messages

  • Buildings can be vulnerable to climate change – which may impact both structural features of the building and indoor conditions of the building. An inability to properly regulate indoor temperatures may lead to thermal discomfort for users, potentially resulting in negative impacts on health, well-being, and productivity.
  • The EU is working to address this problem on several fronts. It has worked to promote the integration of climate change adaptation in building standards, has established Directives to increase energy efficiency and performance and developed policies to encourage renovation of buildings that leads to improved resource and energy efficiency.
  • The knowledge on how to increase the resilience of the built environment is updated and elaborated through various research programmes and the EU offers financial support, for instance through the New European Bauhaus, for innovative ideas and solutions.

Impacts and vulnerabilities

Buildings can be vulnerable to climate change. The future may bring about increased risk of collapse, degradation of construction materials and even of the structural integrity of the buildings, significant loss of value because of more storms, snow or subsidence damage, water encroachment, deteriorating indoor climate and reduced building lifetime. New and existing buildings need to be assessed for resilience to current risks and future climate changes and planned or upgraded accordingly.

Besides impacting the structural features of a building, climate change can influence the conditions under which people live, work and interact indoors. Buildings’ users need to use heating and cooling systems to cope with thermal discomfort brought about by temperature extremes.

 

Policy framework

The EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change includes several actions tackling the climate vulnerabilities of the built environment, while being mindful of the cross-cutting relevance of buildings within the European climate policy. The Strategy flags the need to improve the preparedness of buildings to climate change. Furthermore, the Strategy is mindful of buildings’ role in large-scale adaptation, for instance in curbing the urban heat island effect by means of green roofs and walls, and of the need for more accurate predictions of climate change stresses on the built environment. At the building level, investment policy decisions need to be underpinned with solid climate data - including household-scale decisions on whether to renovate. In terms of buildings’ insurance, a key priority of the Strategy is to close the climate protection gap for infrastructure and for the built environment. The water-energy nexus is also crucial, and the building sector can help tackling the related vulnerabilities.

The Strategy gives priority to nature-based solutions such as green roofs and walls, which can help reduce maladaptation, a practice that the Strategy recommends avoiding. In buildings, for instance, nature-based solutions can be a sustainable alternative to the sole use of air conditioning for cooling. Green infrastructure measures (green corridors, green urban areas, trees in cities as well as green roofs and walls) can increase resilience of the built environment particularly when integrated in urban planning and coupled with nature-based solutions.

The integration of the Adaptation Strategy and the 2020 Renovation Wave Communication is explicitly envisaged. As part of the European Green Deal, the Renovation Wave aims at doubling renovation rates in the next ten years and at ensuring higher energy and resource efficiency. In terms of adaptation, it points to the need to review the standards for heating and cooling in buildings while having consideration for vulnerable people and improving society’s readiness towards heatwaves. This is further pursued in the 2020 Recommendation on Energy Poverty, also part of the Renovation Wave.

In 2021, a revision of the 2016 Green Public Procurement criteria for office buildings, was launched (within the Renovation Wave). It will cover climate resilience criteria and it will be based on indicators developed within the new European framework for sustainable buildings. The latter, launched in 2020, aims at assessing buildings’ sustainability performance throughout their full life cycle, drawing on a range of indicators covering health and thermal comfort extreme weather risks, sustainable drainage and water consumption.

EU Policies related to heating and cooling of buildings are outlined in the Climate-ADAPT Health page. The Directive on Energy Performance of Buildings and the Energy Efficiency Directive provide guidance on this regard.

 

Improving the knowledge base

The IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5 °C has addressed climate change impacts and adaptation options in the building sector that can contribute to limiting warming to 1.5ºC.

The Eurostat Urban Audit provides indicator-based information on the adaptive capacity of cities including infrastructure and buildings. The Urban Adaptation Map Viewer provides indicators, e.g. soil sealing and green urban areas.

The Urban Atlas from the Copernicus Land Monitoring Service provides harmonised information on land cover and land use maps over several hundreds of cities and their surroundings.

Within the European Commission’s Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020 knowledge for adaptation to climate change in building infrastructure is one of the topics covered in the work programme. The RESIN project helps cities to come up with robust adaptation strategies on their most critical infrastructure. EU-CIRCLE project develops a Union-wide framework to support vital infrastructures to be prepared to natural hazards, including climate change. The ABC21 project’s aim is to study the best sustainable designs for warm climate zones to unleash their market and research potential. The project focuses on a bioclimatic design approach, low-energy cooling techniques and local construction materials already in use in the warmer parts of the world, such as Africa, and which can be identified and adapted to other geographies.

Further knowledge on urban adaptation is provided on the Climate-ADAPT Urban page.

 

Supporting investment and funding

EU funding for adaptation is supported by the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 which ensures that climate adaptation actions have been integrated into all the major EU spending programmes.

The EU funding to support infrastructure resilience, including buildings, is mainly organised by the Cohesion Policy, more specifically, via the European Regional Development funds

The EU Solidarity Fund intervenes in case of emergencies, after damage has been incurred. Climate change related events may be financed as well.

Starting in 2021, the research program Horizon Europe will cover buildings within the Destination 4 “Efficient, sustainable and inclusive energy use” of Cluster 5 “Climate Energy and Mobility”. Buildings are one of the fields of action targeted by the EU EU Mission on Adaptation to Climate change as part of Horizon Europe, which promotes the “mobilisation of funds available for the renovation wave to retrofit and climate-proof public buildings and social housing, making them resource and energy efficient, healthy and compliant with principles of circular economy” in a spirit of integration of the principles of the Renovation Wave and of the Adaptation Strategy.

Other types of EU funding adaptation in the infrastructure sector are grants from the European Investment Bank. The European Investment Bank actively promotes climate resilience in the financed projects.

Insurances aim to financially compensate damages of disasters, which are expected to increase in occurrence because of climate change. Insurance cover is a very important instrument of adaptation to climate change in the infrastructure sector, including buildings.

A comprehensive overview can be found on the EU funding of adaptation measures page.

 

Supporting the implementation of adaptation

Since 2014, European Standardization Organizations, CEN and CENELEC, promote the integration of climate change adaptation in building standards, fostering their development and harmonization with the aim to integrate climate change impacts, technology advancements and societal demands within investment decisions, following European Commission’s mandate.

Taking inspiration from the creative movement of a century ago, The EU has launched, within the Renovation Wave initiative, the New European Bauhaus as a platform to foster creative co-creation of new solutions for a sustainable and beautiful built environment in the EU. The initiative aims at facilitating exchange of ideas about more affordable, accessible sustainable living spaces, mobilizing the creativity of designers, architects, engineers, scientists, students, and inspired people of any background, with a view to ultimately improve the quality of our living experience. It will also provide financial support through ad-hoc calls for proposals and programs within in the Multi-Annual Financial Framework. The initial phase has already led to several original contributions, based on which the European Commission has issued a Communication on September 15, 2021.

The Covenant of Mayors on Climate and Energy provides support to adaptation actions in the urban context. More information is available on the ClimateAdapt Urban page.

Highlighted indicators

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