Urban areas are responsible for 75% of greenhouse gas emissions and for 80% of global energy consumption. With a global trend towards urbanisation, these figures are only expected to increase. Buildings are responsible for a large share of this carbon footprint, accounting for 40% of total energy consumption in the European Union, more than half of which comes from the residential sector.
As a consequence, cities and their buildings are on the frontline when it comes to mitigating the impacts of climate change and decarbonising the world economy. Low-carbon technologies, renewable energy sources (RES) and improved energy efficiency in buildings will be critical to any effort to diminish the carbon footprint left by our ever expanding urban societies. With estimates showing that approximately 75% of the current EU building stock will still be standing in 2050, it is easy to understand why existing buildings are the primary energy efficiency challenge.
Given the climate and energy efficiency benefits offered by low-carbon technologies and RES, these seem the obvious choice for cities when it comes to reducing their carbon emissions. However, the market penetration of these technologies remains limited, while conventional energy sources appear to be highly resilient to change. This can be explained by the relative novelty of low-carbon technologies and RES, which means that urban projects attempting to implement these types of solutions are faced with a number of barriers.
It is, therefore, of paramount importance for public authorities at all levels to promote energy efficiency improvements and the implementation of low-carbon technologies and RES in urban areas. If investment in this sector is to be stimulated, it will be necessary to tackle the regulatory, financial, social and technical barriers faced by these technologies. There are specific national and European Union financial instruments that are being put into place and adjusted to properly address these challenges. By using the right policy framework, the EU and national governments can play a crucial role in promoting energy efficiency and enabling more investment in the building sector.