Heat in buildings is still largely delivered by burning fossil fuels. To meet Europe’s 2030 climate target, the European Commission assesses the buildings sector must reduce emissions by 60% over 2015, and close to one in four heating systems will need to be replaced. How do we ensure that these systems are replaced with decarbonised alternatives?

Two central approaches can drive emissions reductions from heating: lowering energy demand and decarbonising the heat supply. To advance these efforts, the European policy framework for heat needs to be more coherent and aligned with climate goals. The authors of this report offer recommendations for revising the relevant directives to increase ambition and harmonise objectives.

While it will be a challenge, rapidly reducing emissions from buildings provides the opportunity to create jobs, improve air quality and increase comfort for inhabitants. The technologies to fully decarbonise the building stock already exist and can be scaled today. Most existing buildings will need to undergo a renovation that reduces energy demand through fabric upgrades and system efficiency and introduces heat storage and demand flexibility. These buildings will then be served with renewable forms of electricity and heat, with heat largely supplied via individual heat pumps and district heating systems. By aligning the European policy framework with climate goals, this vision is within reach.