Comments of BACI and CEMBUREAU on a draft for the introduction of temporary storage of carbon

With letters to the MoEW, MoF, MoE and MoE, BACI shared a position on the recent adoption of French legislation on building sustainability assessments, which introduces the concept of temporary carbon storage, which essentially comes down to separating the production and use phases and excludes end-of-life emissions of wood products. This results in a much lower carbon footprint for wood compared to other building materials, including concrete. The French draft rules have been notified to the European Commission under the so-called TRIS procedure, which requires notifying national governments to comply with a three-month “immobility” period. During this period, industry, Member States and the Commission may comment on the rules and these comments should focus mainly on a potential breach of internal market / free movement rules.

The period of immobility in this case ends on March 15 and we had discussions on the subject through CEMBUREAU in the European Concrete Platform and with our fellow members of Construction Products Europe. National associations have been mobilized in both networks and many of us are sending comments on the procedure. We also discussed the topic through CEMBUREAU with DG GROW, DG ENVI and the personal adviser to the President of the Commission, and we ask the Republic of Bulgaria to send comments as well. A potential extension of the 3-month period of immobility can also be triggered.

As it is likely that the French approach will reach the European level later, we have decided to present with this letter a brief comment by BACI and CEMBUREAU on the raised topic – a draft of French legislation to introduce temporary storage of carbon in the LCA building – simplified dynamic LCA.

BACI and CEMBUREAU, wishes to submit comments on the following three notifications filed by the French Government in the framework of the TRIS procedure under Directive 2015/1535:

  • Draft Decree on the energy and environmental performance requirements for residential, office or primary or secondary education buildings in metropolitan France, notified on 14th December 2020 under number 2020/790/F;
  • Draft Order approving the calculation method provided for in Article R-111-20-5 of the Construction and Housing Code, notified on 14th December 2020 under number 2020/791/F;
  • Draft Order on the energy and environmental performance requirements for residential, office or primary or secondary education buildings in metropolitan France, notified on 14th December 2020 under number 2020/792/F.

The French Draft rules set out above aim to provide guidance to the construction value chain with a view to developing sustainable building solutions. Under the notion of a “simplified dynamic life cycle analysis”, the Draft rules introduce the concept of temporary carbon storage.

Under European law, it is essential that the approach adopted is based on recognized international scientific knowledge and on verifiable facts. CEMBUREAU contends that the introduction of a temporary carbon storage criterion does not meet this high standard:

  • Temporary carbon storage is not recognized in any international or European standard or regulation; ISO 14067:2018 explicitly states that temporary carbon storage should not be taken into account in the carbon footprint of buildings; the concept also does not appear in European standards EN 15804 or EN 15978;
  • In addition, the duration of temporary storage in the French draft rules has been set in an arbitrary manner again without any reference to scientific evidence or underpinning;
  • What is more worrying is that the time period set seems to offer significant advantages for specific building materials, i.e. those with significant emissions at the end of their life-cycle such as the bio-sourced materials;
  • In fact, the “simplification” of the dynamic LCA, as set out in the draft French rules, not only comes down to ignoring or minimizing the end of life-cycle emissions, it also discourages the recycling or reuse of construction products at the end of their life and therewith frustrates the objectives of a circular economy;
  • In conclusion, the simplified dynamic LCA fails to apply a full life cycle approach and therewith shifts the burden to future generations as it does not solve the problem of the ultimate release of temporarily stored carbon.

BACI and CEMBUREAU argue that an introduction of a simplified dynamic LCA by France would result in a national sustainability criteria being adopted for buildings which would run counter to efforts at European level, more notably in CEN TC 350 and in the Commission’s “Building Levels” initiative, to reach a harmonized LCA approach where temporary carbon storage has not been included. Such unilateral action by a Member State makes it difficult for operators in the construction sector to assess and compare the sustainability of building projects and runs against the concept of an integrated internal market.

As it is appointed in the Construction Products Europe statement, let us not reinvent the wheel. EU harmonised LCA should remain the backbone of our effort to achieve Climate Neutral Buildings by 2050.

The French Government plans to apply a new “dynamic” Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) to construction products1 whilst we have a European standard, EN15804 recently aligned to the European Commission needs and used as reference by the whole construction industry. More so, developing national methodologies would lead to barriers to trade for construction products.

Whilst we support the efforts of any government to introduce Life-Cycle Assessments (LCA) as the appropriate tool for sustainability assessment of construction works, we will always recommend the use of the single, harmonised, scientifically based, European methodology.

As explained previously, the calculation of the environmental performance of construction products as part of the overall building performance has been subject to extensive standardisation work in CEN/TC350, mandated by the European Commission in 2004 and in 2017. Under this framework, the standards provide clear guidance when dealing with calculation methods, indicators, and reporting. This framework should therefore be considered as the best existing source of information by public authorities, which can of course be adapted to new requirements in the European context.

The Construction Products Regulation is the sole legislative instrument by which to regulate the delivery of construction products performance information across the EU. Deviations from the European approach, such as national assessment methods or labels are not allowed because they would lead to barriers to trade and to a distortion of the Single Market.

Construction Products Europe considers it essential to follow the single European methodology to assess the environmental performance of construction products and construction works and to integrate any information need in the regulatory context of the Construction Product Regulation.