Breaking Ground or Breaking Climate Goals? EU Construction Law Vote Raises Concerns

On 23 May 2023, the EU Parliament Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) is voting on the revised Construction Products Regulation (CPR). After months of resistance from the rapporteur Christian Doleschal against improving one of EU’s heavy-emitting industries, the text voted on tomorrow risks being a major stumbling block for Europe’s climate goals.

Why construction products?

Notorious for its waste generation, energy consumption, and material inefficiency, construction products is a category that urgently needs the bar raised regarding its environmental performance.

Construction products, from sourcing to the end of life, are a heavy burden on the EU’s carbon-neutral targets and the planet. In Europe, construction is responsible for 50% of all extracted materials and produces 35% of all waste in the EU. Buildings alone are behind 36% of the EU’s carbon emissions.

Aware of the necessary changes in the sector, a recent vote on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive has solidified the EU Parliament’s ambitions to cut buildings’ carbon emissions across all phases, from daily energy use to better climate performance of each building block. However, these goals are unlikely to be achieved if the building blocks themselves are not pushed to change for the better.

Luckily, the EU now has the unique chance to turn things around by transforming the construction products market. The revised CPR, a file responsible for harmonising these product standards, are the best-placed policies to set Europe about a new generation of construction products into more sustainable, energy-efficient, and environmentally friendly innovations.

The stalling committee

Despite the opportunity to clear many climate hurdles and become global leaders in the necessary market revolution, tomorrow will likely see the IMCO Committee voting on a text that puts the EU’s decarbonisation goals at risk.  

Since its enactment in 2011, the CPR has primarily given the pen to the industry when it comes to setting standards, which has resulted in an inefficient backlogged system that has yet to produce any environmental performance on a mandatory basis.  

As we strive for a sustainable and greener future, policymakers must seize CPR as an opportunity to implement significant changes that will drive the construction industry’s transformation.

By not taking bold steps to address this issue, the EU is not only perpetuating a system that harms our planet, locking Europe in decades of climate-wrecking constructions, but we are also missing out on a tremendous opportunity for innovation and job creation.

Quote us

Laetitia Aumont, Policy Officer for Circular and Carbon Neutral Built Environment, European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said:

‘Europe’s journey towards carbon neutrality hangs in the balance, and the key lies with the vote in the IMCO committee tomorrow. The deal negotiated by rapporteur Christian Doleschal has done nothing but favours industry’s interests, all the while holding hostage Europe’s potential to stay on track of its climate goals, as well as hindering the continent from becoming market leaders in sustainable construction products.’

What to watch out for: key demands from green NGOs, associations, and progressive industry players

  1. A functioning governance, where requirements are established through a transparent, democratic and participative process. This includes a strong oversight from the Commission, with EU-level requirements on key environmental indicators (i.e. recycled content and limits on embodied carbon) set in legislation and based on a scientific assessment.
  2. Robust information must be disclosed as a priority and on the basis of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). To secure effective decarbonisation, data must be disclosed all along products’ life cycle and be product specific, with information not only on CO2, but also covering circularity and toxicity. 
  3. Ecodesign requirements must be gradually developed, based on scientific evidence, tackling most polluting products first. 
  4. Ecodesign policies have a proven track record, with 150 Mt CO2 saved every year under the Ecodesign Directive. To ensure these benefits can be leveraged for construction products, the CPR must provide the right tools to ensure Ecodesign requirements are established through a structured, participative and evidence-based process.
  5. Mandatory EU-Green Public Procurement (GPP) criteria for construction products must be swiftly developed. 
  6. The public sector is in a critical position to influence and support the decarbonisation of the construction industry, accounting for 40-60% of purchases of some of the most energy-intensive construction industries (i.e. concrete). Despite its importance, GPP remains largely fragmented within and across Member States, thus limiting its potential. Setting criteria through the CPR represents a key opportunity to ensure a large-scale demand for sustainable construction products driving the European construction market. 

All eyes are now on the members of the IMCO Committee, who now hold Europe’s chance at a decarbonised future in their hands. European lawmakers now have the opportunity to show that they will no longer bow down to industry’s pressure and will rise to the urgency of decarbonising climate-wrecking sectors.