30th Nov 2023

MEPs agree to fossil loophole in EU green building directive

  • The text now forsees a phase-out of gas boilers by 2035 (Photo: Fred Romero)
Listen to article

On Thursday (9 February), the industry committee in the European Parliament agreed on a compromise on the politically fraught file for the renovation and greening of buildings, with 49 votes in favour, 18 against and six abstentions.

With buildings responsible for approximately 35 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, the so-called Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) is an essential part of the EU Commission's decarbonisation efforts.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The regulation aims to trigger a "renovation wave" of Europe's 130 million buildings, which includes insulation and cleaner sources of heating.

"Improving the performance of Europe's buildings will continuously reduce energy bills and energy import dependency," said lead negotiator of the file Greens MEP Ciarán Cuffe on Thursday (9 February).

Minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) are at the heart of the compromise, which will make the improvement of the worst 15 percent of residential buildings mandatory by 2030.

In addition, all new buildings should have zero emissions from 2028, which means phasing out fossil fuel heating. Cuffe initially aimed to end all gas boilers by 2026, but deep divisions along country lines forced him to water down the directive with the phase-out target now set for 2035 "unless the commission allows their use until 2040."

Italy especially resisted mandatory targets strongly, fearing massive renovation bills for its ageing building stock, with the national building association ANCE estimating EU targets may cost €400bn over the next ten years. In a last-minute upset, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berluscon's party Forza Italia broke lines with its EU political family European People's Party and withdrew its support. But this was not enough to scupper the file in parliament.

Gas boiler loophole

The compromise sets more ambitious renovation targets than the commission but leaves the door open for so-called hybrid boilers, which currently run on gas but can be switched to hydrogen and biomethane in the future.

This was an important addition for some of the more conservative members of the EPP, which resented strong EU-wide targets

"It's easy to say an electrical heat pump is the better option, but some electrical grids, for example, in Bulgaria, are fragile. That's why we pushed for some flexibility in using biogas and hydrogen," someone with knowledge of the negotiations told EUobserver.

However, experts and sector insiders slammed the addition of hybrid boilers as a loophole for the gas boiler industry to keep installing gas-fuelled boilers and "squeeze every ounce of value out of their business," one expert told EUobserver anonymously.

Independent research shows hydrogen to be more expensive and less efficient than electrified heating pumps. In addition, it has a higher risk of exploding and is damaging to respiratory health.

A Global Witness study shows hydrogen in heating would double European energy bills by 2050.

But EUobserver understands negotiators allowed for more flexibility because the file may still die when it goes up for a general vote in March.

"It is a very delicate file. There is a lot of fear that costs may get out of control," a negotiator told EUobserver anonymously, adding that some fear for 'gilet jaune'-type riots if renovation targets are set too strictly, referring to a series of weekly protests in France in 2018 following a proposed fuel tax increase.

No penalties

In an earlier text proposed by Cuffe, homeowners would be penalised if renovation targets were not met. But this was removed from the compromise text when the EPP "fought hard" against it.

"Building renovations can seem daunting to many people," said co-negotiator and EPP MEP Sean Kelly. "I believe the real enforcement mechanism will be the market itself."

MEPs to vote on risky 'hydrogen for home heating' rule

The gas-boiler industry is pushing for hydrogen to be allowed to heat homes — but as well as being riskier for explosions and exacerbating asthma, experts dub domestic hydrogen 'a dangerous distraction'.


Hydrogen - the 'no-lose bet' for fossil-fuel industry?

The EU plans to label natural gas as 'green' in sustainable investment rules. From 2026 it will have to be blended with low-carbon gases like green hydrogen - but many scientists warn this is inefficient, costly and damaging to health.


Why is petrostate UAE going all in on green hydrogen?

The United Arab Emirates announced its ambition to become one of the world's premier trading hubs for green hydrogen. Interesting, to say the least, for a country that relies on the sale of fossil fuels for its prosperity.


Will EU climate chief Hoekstra come clean before COP28?

As the new EU climate commissioner, Wopke Hoekstra, heads to COP28, three senior MEPs question his ties to the fossil-fuel industry — and call for him to disclose all his ties while working for 11 years for McKinsey.

Latest News

  1. EU offers Turkey upgrade, as Sweden nears Nato entry
  2. Russia loses seat on board of chemical weapons watchdog
  3. Finland's closure of Russia border likely violates asylum law
  4. The EU's 'no added sugars' fruit-juice label sleight-of-hand
  5. EU belittles Russia's Lavrov on way to Skopje talks
  6. Member states stall on EU ban on forced-labour products
  7. EU calls for increased fuel supplies into Gaza
  8. People-smuggling profits at historic high, EU concedes

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  2. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?
  3. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  4. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  5. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  2. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations
  5. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  6. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us