Housing in a Climate-Neutral Europe

Reshaping Housing Policy for Equitable 1.5-Degree Lifestyles

In this policy brief, ZOE Institute outlines why and how European Union policies on housing and the built environment can be better designed to enable equitable “1.5-Degree Lifestyles” in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C global warming target. Meeting the EU’s 2030 and 2050 climate goals will require steeper emissions reductions across the board, including in the buildings sector.

Household consumption is linked to two-thirds of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally and is one of three “hotspot” areas of carbon-intensive consumption both globally and within the EU (along with mobility and food). Demand-side policies in the housing sector would complement the improvement of energy efficiency and the spread of renewables by ensuring that emissions reductions are not offset by a rising demand for larger living spaces. To ensure basic needs are protected and policy measures target the most carbon-intensive consumption, equity considerations belong at the centre of policy measures in the housing sector. A combined ‘equitable 1.5-Degree Lifestyles’ perspective opens up a set of new policy options for the housing sector in line with the vision and ambition of the New European Bauhaus. To effectively reduce energy consumption and the resulting emissions in the housing sector, the unsustainable demand must also be addressed, which entails re-envisioning living spaces as a part of fostering sustainable lifestyles. Demand-side policies hold great potential and bring a variety of co-benefits including health improvements, higher overall subjective wellbeing, pollution reduction, and the bolstering of local communities.

ZOE Institute’s recommendations for policies that enable 1.5-Degree Lifestyles while advancing equity are as follows:

  1. Policies providing financial support for shared or communal housing score equally high regarding their contribution to both equity and 1.5-Degree Lifestyles.
  2. Policies advancing neighbourhood approaches to urban zoning received a particularly high score with respect to their estimated impact on increasing equity because they can facilitate the access to amenities and needs in low-income areas.
  3. Policies that increase flexibility through adaptable building use regulations contribute both to equity and to 1.5-Degree  Lifestyles by creating opportunities to adapt the indoor space available to meet the needs of citizens.

The New European Bauhaus is a promising step in the right direction towards reshaping the built environmentespecially in its focus on societal debates and citizen engagement. To build on this progress and unlock the full emissions reduction potential of lifestyle changes in housing and the built environment, EU policymakers should steer and implement further innovative policies approaches such as those discussed in this policy brief.

The report Housing in a Climate-Neutral Europe is an instalment in the publication series Policy Pathways towards 1.5-Degree Lifestyles. The policy briefs in this series present insights from academic research and exchange between the ZOE Institute, policymakers, and other stakeholders, and serve as a basis for an ongoing set of thematic Policy Labs exploring how future-fit policy pathways for Europe can be created in the most carbon-intensive consumption sectors.


ZOE Authors