23 September 2021

The EU could be about to greenlight polluting gas boilers well into the 2050s

Despite ambitious EU targets for carbon neutrality by 2050, and a 55% reduction target by 2030, the European Commission’s draft revision to ecodesign regulation [1] would allow the continued sale and installation of new gas boilers in the EU for at least the next decade.

Emissions from space and water heating represent a significant portion (12%) of the EU’s total CO2 emissions, equivalent to the emissions of all the cars in the EU. But the decarbonisation of heating is repeatedly overlooked, even though 28% of the total energy consumed in the EU is used in space and water heating. In the residential sector, 75% of this energy comes from fossil fuels such as gas, oil or coal.

There are currently around 129 million boilers installed in the EU, more than 50% of which are very inefficient, ranked in C or lower energy classes in the Energy Label.

If we do not address this problem, it will not be possible to reach the EU’s own 2030 emissions reduction target. There could be millions of fossil-fuel boilers in European homes well into the 2050s, by which time the EU is supposed to have reached Net Zero.

An opportunity not to be missed

The European Commission is in the process of revising the regulations for space and water heating under the framework of the Ecodesign Directive. The Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Consultation Forum (composed of nominees from the member states and representatives from industry and civil society organisations) met on the 27th and 28th of September 2021 to discuss the latest draft legislative proposals of the EU Commission. A vote on the final legislative text will follow at some point in the coming months.

Unfortunately, the proposed ecodesign regulation allows the installation of new gas boilers in the EU into the 2030’s – boilers that have a lifetime of several decades. This is extremely disappointing, as there is no plan to set ambitious efficiency requirements for gas boilers now or in the future.

We cannot let this happen! This is why we have sent a letter to Frans Timmermans calling for a phase-out to the sale of new fossil fuel boilers. Our call was supported by 30 businesses, NGOs and city representatives.

Ecodesign & energy labelling – a success story

The EU’s energy labelling and ecodesign policies have led to large energy and GHG emissions savings since their introduction in 1994 and 2005, respectively. Together, ecodesign and energy labelling policies are expected to deliver around a third of all the emissions savings needed to achieve the EU’s 2030 emission reduction under Fit for 55.

The Ecodesign Directive (2009/125/EC) operates through product-specific (and horizontal) implementing measures, while the Energy Labelling Framework Regulation (EU/2017/1369) makes use of product-specific delegated acts. These measures need to be updated regularly to ensure that the least sustainable products are progressively pushed off the EU market and encourage consumers to make better-informed decisions, thus “pulling” the market towards greater energy efficiency.

Adopted in 2013, the ecodesign and energy labelling regulations for space and water heaters currently contribute to cutting 80 million tonnes CO2- equivalent emissions each year, compared to 2010 levels.

Space and water heaters – potential and delays

Of all the product groups regulated through ecodesign and energy labelling, space and water heaters are the most impactful in terms of their energy use and other environmental impacts, representing 20% of the total. It took seven years for the current regulations to be adopted, and they finally entered into force in 2015.

According to 2020 research by experts at ECOS and the Coolproducts campaign, preventing the sale of new gas boilers after 2025 would save 110 million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year through to 2050. This would account for nearly two-thirds of the emissions reductions needed in homes and public buildings to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

At their full potential, sufficiently strong rules could bring about an additional 30 Mt of annual CO2 savings by 2030, 90 Mt by 2040, and 110 Mt by 2050.

Good alternatives

We do not need to resign ourselves to fossil-fuel heating. Alternatives do exist. There are already 13.3 million heat pumps heating homes, offices, and entire districts in the EU. The EU market is expanding quickly, with around 1.3 million households buying a heat pump in 2018 (12% year-on-year growth since 2015). France, Italy and Spain are responsible for half of all sales in the EU, while Sweden, Estonia, Finland and Norway have the highest penetration rates, with more than 25 heat pumps sold per thousand households per year.


[1] “Revision of Commission regulations (EU) 813/2013 and (EU) 811/2013 on respectively Ecodesign and Energy Label of central hydronic space and combination heaters”

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